Tuesday, June 26, 2012

5 Questions After the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Now that the dust has settled from the road course weekend, let's revisit the Five Questions Before The Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. 

1. Will a road course specialist win or will a driver not known for right turns take the checkers?
The latter. Clint Bowyer, who had never finished higher than fourth on a road course held off defending race winner and Cup champion Kurt Busch, as well as previous Sonoma winners and Cup champions Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon. Brian Vickers turned in a solid performance for MWR, finishing fourth.   


2. Will Jeff Gordon get to ring the Hendrick Victory Bell next?
Gordon started on the outside of the front row and clearly had the fastest car on the track in early going, but he ran out of Sonoco fuel on Lap 72. Somehow he managed to charge back up through the field to finish sixth.

3. Will Kyle Busch get his mojo back? 
Close. Very close...the No. 18 ran well, was as high as fourth at Lap 93 but got into Paul Menard with just four to go, spinning both drivers and setting up a green-white-checkered finish. The younger Busch finished in 17th, with only some bent sheet metal, which after the three straight weeks of blown engines isn't bad.

4. Will Tony Stewart pay back Brian Vickers for last year's on-track incident? 
Oddly enough, both drivers were focusing on winning the race rather than re-visiting old grudges. The two drivers were near each other long enough they could have gotten into some trouble, especially since Vickers had no points on the line, but he must have been looking toward securing a full-time ride and behaved himself.

5. Will the Nationwide Series race at Road America be equal to or better than the Cup race at Sonoma? 
For my money, the Nationwide race at Road America provided more competitive racing throughout the entire race than the Cup race at Sonoma. Sure, the end of the Cup race was exciting, but from what television viewers were shown, it didn't have nearly as many interesting battles for position away from the lead than Road America did. As much as I like Sonoma, my vote is for Road America. 

Like cautions breed cautions, questions breed questions. Here are mine after this weekend's racing.

1. Can Clint Bowyer win another race this season?  
I think he's got the talent and the equipment to win more races. On one of the most technically challenging tracks on the circuit, Bowyer and MWR's No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota held off four drivers with a total of 13 championships among them and nine wins in the last 14 wins at the track. And he did it in convincing style. His teammates did well, too, which speaks to the strength of the team.

2. Will Kurt Busch take Phoenix Racing's No. 51 to Victory Lane this season? 
With the 2004 Cup champion, it's not can he win, but will he? Whether the elder Busch brother has the talent or skill to win races has never been in question. Some may wonder why James Finch kept the volatile driver considering his difficulties but consider this...that third place Busch scratched and clawed to get at Sonoma was the first top-five finish Finch has had in Cup racing since 2009, and one of only four Finch's teams have scored since 1990. While 27th in driver points might not be something most teams would find exciting, it's the best position any Cup driver has held for Finch after this many races. Only time will tell if Kurt Busch will be able to keep his momentum and score a win.

3. Should a road course be in the Chase?  
Various polls taken by various media outlets over the weekend indicate that a majority of fans want a road course to be among the ten races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The drivers likely are split between those who are skilled at road racing and those who simply try to survive. But the same could be said for plate-racing at Talladega or short-track racing at Martinsville. Will NASCAR consider a road course? If so, which track? And which track would lose a date in the Chase to make room it? All valid considerations.

4. Did Danica Patrick earn respect at Road America? 
Not only did Patrick hold her own against such skilled road racers as Nelson Piquet Jr, Ron Fellows, and Max Papis, but when her almost-certain top-five finish fell victim to Jacques Villeneuve's aggression, she got right back on the track to get back every position she could possibly regain. Former F1 champion Villeneuve  blamed Papis for the No. 22 getting into the No. 7 GoDaddy.com car. Patrick, who was seen hugging and laughing with Papis on pit road after the race, showed control by saying,“You all can make a decision for yourself, what you think happened there.” Did she earn respect from her fellow racers? Well, Kevin and DeLana Harvick, Kasey Kahne, and even Mario Andretti tweeted their support and admiration for her handling of the situation. Did she earn respect from NASCAR fans? At least for this week. Will it carry over to Kentucky? We'll just have to wait and see.

5. Would someone please give Max Papis a full-time ride? 
Mad Max coaches the Dillon brothers for Richard Childress Racing, but he demonstrated in the Sargento 200 that he's still got the moves to pilot a full-time ride. He enjoys working with Austin and Ty Dillon but he's a racer and wants to be competing for wins himself, whether in a truck or a stock car. With sponsorship difficult to secure these days, it's not likely he'll be driving full time soon, but it certainly would be fun to watch.

That's all for now. Check back on Thursday for Five Questions Before: Kentucky!

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