NASCAR: Revvin' it Up in Sonoma!

It was a beautiful Tuesday in Sonoma, Calif., a perfect day to visit Northern California’s Infineon Raceway. In just about 10 days the track will come alive with the familiar sounds and smells of NASCAR.

Sprint Cup Series drivers David Ragan, David Reutimann, Michael McDowell and Andy Lally arrived just before noon for a one-day session of testing at Infineon Raceway.

I had the pleasure of being among those that were invited to come to the track to watch the drivers test and take part in a one-hour Q & A session. Below you will find the result of these short but informative interviews.

Included in the conversations below you will find questions from other members of the media as well as myself. 

David Reutimann

CC: Have you had a road course coach?
DR: (David Reutimann): "Several, Max Papis helped me out, Chris Cooke has helped me out some and Michael McDowell has helped me out. He’s had a relationship with our team. He was actually my teammate at one time. I’ve had a lot of good instructors and they all helped me out a lot. I don’t suck as bad as I used to, but I’m still not where I need to be."

CC: Is it frustrating to drive at the front of the pack then come here and the whole world kinda changes?
DR: "Ya, I hate it. I hate the fact we haven’t been competitive on road courses. I think we ran 19th or something last year so I’ve certainly run worse than that.  But you don’t come to a racetrack to run 19th; you come to run well and get in top-10s. We’re gonna try to get a little closer to doing that."

CC: Where do you look to pass on this track?
DR: “I guess down here at turn 10. That seems to be a really good place to pass on. You see a lot of that going on and you see guys who’ll make a dive right there on the inside. So that’s where you see a lot of the action going on. There’s passing that goes on all over the race track but that seems to be the preferred zone.”

CC: Jeff Gordon seems to own this track. He’s had five wins. What's his secret?
DR: I don’t know. He’s just good. That’s his secret. Which is truly not a secret at all. He’s just really really talented. He seems to have adapted to these places quite well. If he’s got anything he knows special, he’s not sharing.”

Lindi Bess: What's the greatest challenge in adapting to Infineon when you compare it to ovals?
DR: "Well, there's just more variables. Other than the obvious stuff, it’s a completely different layout. There’s just so much more that goes into the road course stuff than we do at the ovals. On an oval you put it in 4th gear and you just go as fast as you can. This is just a different mentality, different outlook, different approach, and ovals can sometimes be a little more forgiving. All though you're running sometimes 200 miles an hour on an oval, so it's not that much more forgiving if you screw up. But these places right here, you can lose a lot of spots just by making a small mistake.”

LB: What's the difference between the late models you're driving today and the Cup cars?
DR: "They’re a lot lighter for one. Less horsepower so they just drive better, when you come down to it. In most cases you're on a bias ply tire so there’s nothing that’s gonna crossover from these set-ups to what you're gonna do, this is just to mainly get your technique sharpened up and hopefully pick up your shifting points a little bit because the gear ratios are really similar to what we run in the Cup cars, although the power difference you won’t be shifting in the same places. So it’s just to kinda shake the cobwebs off and get you acclimated with the race car."

LB: So you're not able to take any information from the testing today to the Cup race?
DR: "ZERO! Absolutely nothing."

Andy Lally

LB: What’s the greatest challenge when trying to adapt to a road course in comparison to an oval?
AL (Andy Lally): "I have a road racing background so this is, for me, coming home. I haven’t raced at Infineon since 2006 and I’ve never raced this configuration. The NASCAR configuration. Normally we run the carousel, and the longer course. I can better tell what the adaptation is going from road courses to ovals."

LB: OK then let’s turn it around then.
AL: "This is a homecoming for me. Here and Walkins Glen are two races that I'm looking forward to the most because this is what I’m used to. This is what I just come from 17 years worth of doing. My rookie season in Sprint Cup Series is a huge acclamation to tracks that I never run before. I’ve done some oval track racing, but not a lot. You just got quite a different feel especially on entry when you have an asymmetrical car, meaning something that is just set up to turn one direction, as opposed to something that’s square, like you do on the road courses. Some places like here and WG, there’ll be some teams that set the car up to turn right a little easier than it does turn left, but for the most part they're pretty square. The biggest acclamation for me coming back to a road course would be with these big heavy cars. I’m used to a light weight, very nimble, slightly lower HP car with a little stick to your tire and more down force. So were back to a road course and it's definitely a big handful with these cars. You're breaking much earlier, you’ve got almost double the HP, so you gotta be real gentle getting on the power. It’s a big, big, big challenge. The Cup cars carry about 900 HP.”

LB: So these are what they consider “late models.” What's the difference between these and the Cup cars as far as the road course goes?
AL: "These are a little lighter, bias ply tire, and you probably only have about 400 HP. We’ll have another 400 HP here for the Cup race. It's crazy. It goes and it’s a pretty amazing deal.”

Unfortunately, time ran out and I was unable to interview the other drivers. I want to thank Infineon Raceway for their hospitality and assistance with these interviews.

NASCAR: Revvin' it Up in Sonoma! NASCAR: Revvin' it Up in Sonoma! Reviewed by Lindi Bess on Friday, June 17, 2011 Rating: 5