What to Watch for at Sonoma

Tony Stewart

Expect to see Tony Stewart in the middle of the action today at Sonoma. (Photo Getty Images)


SONOMA, Calif. _ It is the slowest corner in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. And can have the most action.

Turn 11, the hairpin, at Sonoma Raceway has given fans many exciting moments and created many headaches for drivers through the years.

It is in this corner where Ricky Ruddy spun Davey Allison as they came to the white flag in 1991. It is there in 2011 where Brian Vickers repaid Tony Stewart for an earlier incident and Stewart’s car ended up with its rear end propped on top of the tire barrier. This turn is where any driver, if they’re in the series long enough, will spin or be spun here.

Stewart says it’s difficult to stay out of trouble there all race.

“If you stay ahead of them far enough you don’t have to worry about it,’’ Stewart said of contact from other cars. “It just depends on where you’re at in the pack and who you’re around. There’s guys that will run in there and don’t care. There’s guys that have had a bad day earlier in the day and they’re in that mode so it just depends on who you’re around. Hopefully, you’re around guys you respect and that respect you and you don’t have problems when you get there.”

The most memorable incident there came in 1991 between Rudd and Allison. After the contact, Rudd took the lead and crossed the finish line first but NASCAR did gave him the black flag. Allison was declared the winner.

“I’m still shocked they did it that day,’’ said Larry McReynolds, who was Allison’s crew chief then. “I was told that Bill France Jr. was the one that made that call. I’m really proud of the way that we handled it. After we came out of Victory Lane, there was so much screaming and yelling and shoving and pushing over at that NASCAR hauler with (Rudd’s team) screaming at Bill France, screaming at anybody that would listen to them.

]“They had a little shed and we were tearing the engine down. Richard Childress came over there and he said, “You all better get over to that NASCAR hauler, they’re going to screw you out of this win.’ I looked at (car owner) Robert (Yates) and asked, “Are you going over there?’ He went no. He said if we go over there,we’re telling them we’re doubting that we won this race, we just need to stay right here and take care of our business. If Robert hadn’t been there, I would have probably been over there at that NASCAR hauler pleading my case. My case for what? We won.’’

The action in turn 11 is just one thing to watch for in today’s race. Here are some others:

PIT STRATEGY - Most teams will plan to make three pit stops during the race. They’ll do that to ensure they can make it to the end on fuel and because the tires fall off so much the longer they’re run. Still, watch for those that try to stretch their fuel and do the race in only two pit stops. For those who do, a key will be not to have a caution after their second and final pit stop. A caution would eliminate their advantage and likely leave them as sitting ducks to drivers with fresher tires behind. Such are the gambles and decisions that will be made on pit road.

BLOCKING - It’s an issue at all tracks but will play a bigger role on the narrow road course. Don’t be surprised to hear Stewart talk about it after the race.

“They will block here,’’ he said earlier this weekend. “Just about everybody is going to block here. It’s inevitable. It’s not my favorite part about this by any means. The race track is fun enough, but there is going to be plenty of guys that block this weekend unfortunately.”

MARCOS AMBROSE - He’s come close to winning this race before and tested here last month. The goal is simple: Win the race and work his way into the top 20 in points to have a chance at a wild card spot when the Chase field is set in September.

ANOTHER DIFFERENT WINNER - There has been a different winner in each of the last eight races at Sonoma. The streak began in 2005 when Tony Stewart won. He’s been followed by Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer last year. Will the streak continue?



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