NASCAR Notes: Sonoma's New Challenge

Carl Edwards

With little run-off room at Sonoma, some drivers worry about catching slower cars during their qualifying run. (Photo: Getty Images)

NASCAR’s first trip to a road course this season could present some issues for Sprint Cup drivers in qualifying.

Unlike ovals where it is easy for a driver to move to the apron and get out of the way of cars qualifying, Sonoma’s tight, twisting track does not offer such luxuries. That could add an extra layer of intrigue with Saturday’s qualifying session.

“It’s hard to get out of the way,’’ said AJ Allmendinger, who tested at Sonoma earlier this month. “You can’t drive off-line. There will probably be a couple of people mad at each other.’’

NASCAR had group qualifying at Sonoma last year but it was different than this year’s format. Last year, groups of five or six cars went out in a session at five-second intervals.

This year, teams can go out as often as they want and when they want in the two rounds of qualifying -  a 30-minute session where 12 cars advance to the final round. Finding the proper spacing between cars and not catching someone after they’ve completed their lap could be key because drivers expect their times to slow as they get more laps on their tires.

“That is going to be interesting,’’ Carl Edwards said. “There will be the potential for people to really mess  up someone else’s lap.’’

TOUGH CHALLENGE

Kasey Kahne’s fifth-place finish last weekend at Michigan gave the team a much-needed boost.

It was Kahne’s third top-10 finish in the last 11 races.

“It’s been tough mentally,’’ crew chief Kenny Francis said of the team’s season. “It seems like we’ve had so much bad luck this year and things happen like you’d never think. 

“Charlotte was a perfect example. I felt we had a car that could have won the race at Charlotte and got a lap down early and somehow never could get it back over 600 miles (finishing 14th). At the end of the race, we were just kind of riding with the leaders, just sitting there and trying to stay out of their race. Felt like if we could have got up there we could have raced for the win with them. 

“They say you make your own luck. We’ve got to do to a a little bit better job of trying to be in the right place at the right time.’’

EXTRA TRACK TIME

Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Michael Annett and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are entered in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. They’re seeking additional road course experience before Sunday’s Sprint Cup race there.

TIRE TESTING

Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano took part in a Goodyear tire test Monday and Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“With the added downforce, added speed, we want to make sure this tire is durable enough to handle all that stress we put on it,’’ Logano said during a break Tuesday. “Today is actually a really good day to test because the temperatures are hot and it’s always hot when we come back here. So far, everything has gone well.

NEW SONOMA TIRE

Goodyear is bringing a new tire to Sonoma based off a test there March 25-26 with Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers. Compared to what was run at Sonoma last year, the new tire features a compound change designed to give the cars more grip.

SONOMA TIDBITS

Jeff Gordon has the best average finish (8.2) at Sonoma in 21 races there. Clint Bowyer is next with an average finish of 9.1 in eight starts there.  ... Eight of the last 11 winners at a road course started in the top six. ... The leader at halfway has won nine of the last 11 Sonoma races, including the last four. 

PIT STOPS

Kyle Larson already has seven top-10 finishes this season. The team had eight top-10 finishes last season with Juan Pablo Montoya. ... Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have combined to lead just more than half the 4,717 laps run this season. 

 

 

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