Close Encounters


Tight racing and tight corners leads to some aggressive driving on the road courses, drivers say. (Photo: Getty Images)


SONOMA, Calif. - It’s been called the new short track. Combine Left- and right-hand turns on Sonoma’s twisting course with big, heavy stock cars and drivers with quick tempers and it could create an explosive situation.

It was here in 2011 where Tony Stewart spun Brian Vickers for blocking only to see Vickers retaliate and Stewart’s car perched atop a tire barrier. It was here in 2010 where Martin Truex Jr. said of Jeff Gordon after an incident  “what comes around goes around ... I’ll get him at Loudon.’’ Jimmie Johnson’s contact sent Kurt Busch into a tire barrier in 2009, intensifying their feud at the time.

“Everything just gets worse throughout the race, so at the end of the race when the intensity level is up and everyone’s car is not handling as well we run into each other,’’ said Clint Bowyer, who won at Sonoma in 2012. “That’s a product of it. That’s why you want to be the guy that’s being aggressive and not the one that’s getting pushed around.’’

Stewart says the course leads to some of the aggression among drivers.

“You’ve got first-gear corners here that have really wide entries, so if there’s a hole, guys fill it and it creates a lot of problems,’’ Stewart said. “There are other guys that just are back in 20th and they don’t care; they’ll just bounce off somebody to get a couple spots. You definitely want to be in the top five on a restart and try to get away from a little bit of that group before you get down to (Turns) 4 and 7. If you can get through (Turn) 7, I think you’re all right. It just seems like getting down to Turn 7 on a restart is where all the action is.”

Turn 7 is a right-hand turn that leads to the esses on the back half of the course.

AJ Allmendinger says part of the aggression is because of how talented drivers have become on road courses.

“You look at how deep the field is now at the road course races, that’s why it is aggressive, because it is hard to pass,’’ said Allmendinger, who tested earlier this month at Sonoma. “Everybody is so close. If you get kind of stuck in the back of the pack, it is hard to go anywhere.’’

Brad Keselowski says this started with the previous generation of the car, which could take a beating.

“Before that time it seemed like if you made any contact with someone the fenders came down on the tires and you would blow a tire out,’’ Keselowski said. “You might hit somebody and knock them out of the way but a lap later, you were in the pits changing a tire. When (that car) came out, it really changed the game on that. You could make a lot of contact and get away with it.’’

And drivers do.

“Usually there are about four or five guys that are smiling after the race and everyone else is really mad at each other,’’ Joey Logano said. “I can’t wait.’’ 

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