Winding Road Leads West

Road-course races are not part of the “Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup,” the unique 10-race, down-the-stretch competition that will decide the series champion. That situation would seem, then, to place an extreme premium on the two road-course events preceding the last ten races of the season. Drivers had better get the road races right, as they seek to accumulate points that will earn them spots in the championship battle, since there will be no second chances.

The first of the schedule’s two road circuits will be visited this week – Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., site of Sunday’s Dodge/Save Mart 350. The other road race will be Aug. 15 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. These races are unique not only in layouts but also in the fact that several road racing “specialists” will enter, people like former Trans-Am Series champion Scott Pruett, who will drive a fourth Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car, the No. 39 Target Dodge.

However, given the new format to determine the series champion – after 26 races, the Top 10 in points and anyone else within 400 points of the standings’ leader will be involved in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup – every serious contender needs to look like a specialist this weekend.

Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) is definitely special on road courses; he swept last year’s two multi-turn tests. But as far as being a championship contender, Gordon needs a boost. He comes into Sonoma 20th in points, nearly 700 points behind first-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet).

“This weekend is going to be important for Team Cingular because it could help us move up a bit in the standings, where some of the other drivers currently ranked higher than us tend to struggle on road courses,” Gordon said.

“So, if everything plays in our favor, we could make up 40 to 50 points on some of those top guys right now. If you look at two races like that and add them together, with Watkins Glen coming up, that could mean almost 100 additional points from where we are right now.”

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