Fantasy NASCAR preview: Toyota/SaveMart 350

by Eric McClung on June 16, 2010 @ 17:00:00 PDT


Located in California's wine country, Infineon Raceway is the first of only two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. When compared to the other, Watkins Glen International, Infineon is the more technical of the two. Built on the hilly landscape at Sears Point, several blind turns are created by the changes in elevation. Pit strategy is huge, as there are a limited number of pit stops required to run the entire race. Look for some teams to short pit to get off-sequence in hopes of gaining an advantage.

Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Shape: Road course
Length: 1.99 miles
Laps: 110
Turns: 12

Drivers to keep an eye on

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Few drivers can match Stewart's consistency at Sonoma. In 11 career starts, he owns a 9.5 average starting position and 9.3 average finish, which includes two wins. Stewart has also led at least one lap on eight occasions. After enduring perhaps his worst stretch of racing in his career, Stewart comes into this event with two straight top-five finishes. He could be peaking at just the right time. Look for Smoke to get a lot of his frustrations out by moving cars out of his way, a technique often needed to succeed on these types of tracks.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Stewart-Haas driver Tony Stewart
Less fire, more Smoke expected

Here's an easy way to make a few bucks off your racing buddies. Ask them at which track does Bowyer own his best average finish? Chances are they won't ever think of Sonoma, where Bowyer has an average finish of 8.0. In four career starts at the track, Bowyer has two top-five finishes in addition to an eighth-place result last year. Prior to running into some bad luck last week at Michigan International Speedway, Bowyer had finished in the top-10 in the previous two races. That includes dominating the first half of the event at Pocono Raceway, which is in some ways a big modified road course. In a week where many of the top choices are somewhat obvious, Bowyer could offer sleeper value.

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

After winning at Sonoma in his first career start at the site, Montoya has finished sixth in two consecutive runs. In those three total starts, Montoya has held an average running position of at least 11th and has never been running worse than 12th at the midway point of the race. Oddly enough, Montoya has yet to qualify better than 17th at Sonoma and has a puzzling 23.3 average start over his career. We don't care where he starts, JPM gets it done on road courses and deserves to be started in just about every format, no matter how rough his season has been.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 47 Clorox/Kleenex Toyota | JTG Daugherty Racing

Last year at Sonoma, Ambrose qualified third but started from the rear due to an engine change. That only makes the Aussie's third-place finish all that more impressive. In 2008, Ambrose made his first start at the site. He qualified seventh, but finished 42nd due to a transmission failure. At the midway point of that race, Ambrose was running 10th and held an average running position of 17th in the 83 laps he ran. Along with Montoya, Ambrose should add some international flavor to the front of the pack at Sonoma.

Mattias Ekstrom | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Don't be alarmed if you just did a double take as this is Ekstrom's first career start in any level of NASCAR. He is replacing Casey Mears in the No. 83 car. The 31-year-old Swede is an experienced and accomplished road course driver. He is a two-time winner of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series, where he is sponsored by Red Bull, and has also participated in the World Rally Championship. In his first test session behind the wheel of a Cup car, Ekstrom was up to speed in one hour's time despite driving a bigger and heavier car than he's accustomed to. While it is highly unlikely Ekstrom would be tabbed to run the remaining Cup schedule, he could be brought back for the Watkins Glen race if he performs at Sonoma. Consider Ekstrom as a deep sleeper in formats with a bottom-tier driver as his equipment is much better than the other road course ringers.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

In 2008, Kenseth finished a career-best eight at Sonoma. He followed that with a mediocre 18th-place result last year. In 10 career starts at the site, Kenseth's average finish is only 21.4. Two of his teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, are underrated road course drivers but they have yet to rub off on Kenseth. In allocation formats, save Kenseth for another day.

Mark Martin | No. 5 Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth
Save Kenseth for another day

He may have won at Sonoma back in 1997, but Martin is not someone that should be on anyone's fantasy team this week. Martin finished 35th at the site last year, his first start at Sonoma since 2006. A few years ago, when Martin was a part-time driver, he kept the road courses off his schedule. Martin has been running midway over the last several races and is very unlikely to suddenly turn it around on a road course. Take his lead and keep Martin in your garage.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Truex has had success at Watkins Glen in both the Cup series and Nationwide Series, owning a fifth-place and sixth-place finish at the site in each series. Yet Truex has been unable to figure out Sonoma. Even starting a career-best sixth at the track last year didn't help, as he finished a career-worst 23th. In four career starts, Truex has an average start of 22.0 and average finish of 20.0. Truex has gone five races without a top-10 this season - don't expect a road course to change that.

Brad Keselowski | No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Since this is Keselowski's first career start on a road course in a Cup car, it would be wise to sit him for this one. That's not to say he couldn't finish well. In fact, he owns an average finish of 13.8 in six career Nationwide starts on road courses, which includes a top-five and four top-10s. This is a track where Keselowski's well-documented aggressiveness could help him march to the front, or it could get him in a lot of trouble. Considering he is without a single top-10 finish this season and has finished 20th or worse in three straight, take a wait-and-see approach.

Boris Said | No. 26 Air Guard/GTWGPR Ford | Latitude 43 Motorsports

The most-popular road course ringer is sure to get some starts this week. And with good reason, in 10 career starts at Sonoma, Said has four top-10 finishes. But it's the equipment, not that driver, which should make you think twice about becoming a Said Head this week. Said drove this car in the first four races of the season and had two DNFs with a rear gear issue. From that point, David Stremme took over only to suffer another rear gear failure early in his tenure, as well as failing to qualify for three races. Last year, Said ran as high as third at Sonoma but finished 24th. Said had to serve a penalty for speeding on pit road and made contact with several drivers, which resulted in spinning them out and damage to his car.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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