Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Toyota/Save Mart 350
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.
Drivers to keep an eye on
The driver of the double deuce is an underrated driver on road courses, offering quite a bit of value this week. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Busch's average running position of 11.2 is third among all drivers at Infineon. A year ago, he spent 90 percent of his laps running in the top 15 with an average running position of ninth. However, Busch was sent into the grass with four laps to go and left to finish 32nd. He would rebound at Watkins Glen with a career-best runner-up performance.
In addition to his pair of Infineon wins, Stewart enters with four consecutive top-10 finishes at the site. He is also the series leader at Sonoma in a number of loop data statistics such as driver rating, average running position and laps in the top 15. After a dozen starts, Stewart has only finished worse than 15th once. Stewart is also a monster at Watkins Glen, leading all drivers with five career wins.
With five career wins, Gordon leads all drivers in victories at Sonoma. Going back to 1995, he has finished outside of the top 10 just twice while compiling 11 top-fives in 16 starts. Despite those extremely impressive numbers, Gordon does have some boom-or-bust risk attached. Even though he's won twice this season, Gordon sits just 12th in points due to some very erratic performances. On a road course, much of the race is in the driver's hands which bodes very well for Gordon.
Even though Montoya has never qualified better than 14th in four attempts at Sonoma, he has scored a top-10 finish each time. In addition, Montoya has held an average running position of at least 12th each time out. As a rookie in 2007, JPM picked up his first career Cup win in wine country while the second victory came last year at The Glen. No matter his struggles, Montoya is always a threat on road courses and is a must-start driver in all formats.
Even though Kahne has not recorded a top-10 at the less technical road course in Watkins Glen, he won the 2009 event at Sonoma after an average finish of 31.8 in five previous starts. Kahne would prove his first road course victory was no fluke by finishing fourth a year ago after qualifying on the pole. Owners in formats that reward top qualifiers will want to roster Kahne as he also scored the pole position in 2008.
A year ago, Ambrose appeared to have this race won. Leading with six laps to go and under caution, the Australian cut his engine off to save fuel. However, the car would not refire initially forcing Ambrose to restart seventh since he could not maintain speed. At The Glen, he has yet to finish worse than third in the Cup Series and has won three straight Nationwide Series races there. While Ambrose has improved this season on intermediate tracks, the road courses are where fantasy owners need to make sure he's active.
After sweeping the 2003 road course races, Gordon went six starts at Infineon without a top-15 finish. That streak was broken after a runner-up performance last year while holding off Kevin Harvick on worn tires that had all but lost grip. Over the last five Sonoma starts, Gordon has recorded an average running position of at least 19th. Despite some poor finishes in that span, the man that has raced just about everything on wheels everywhere imaginable always comes to a road course with a solid game plan and pit strategy in mind.
As an accomplished road racer, Said is an annual hired gun at Infineon and Watkins Glen. Constantly starting for different owners means the quality of his equipment is sometimes a question. This week he'll pilot a James Finch-owned ride that has finished 12th twice this season. With a respectable ride and his own top-notch skills, the only concern is a lack of respect Said sometimes gets on the track by racing the regulars so hard. Last year, after finishing eighth at Sonoma, an irritated Tony Stewart rammed into Said's car after the race was over and then wrecked him months later at The Glen.
Temper your expectations
Even though Edwards owns an average finish of 8.2 at Watkins Glen, he has only been modest performer at Infineon. In six career starts, Edwards has two top-10s while spending just 22.7 percent of his laps in the top 15 after finishing 29th last year. While he owns road course wins at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Road America in the Nationwide Series, fantasy owners in allocation formats would be wise to save the current points leader for another time.
With two wins already this season and coming off a runner-up performance last week, Kenseth is looking impressive. However, he has struggled on road courses over his career. In 11 career starts at Infineon, Kenseth owns just one top-10 and an average running position of 21st or worse in four straight. Intermediate tracks are Kenseth's bread and butter, not right-hand turns.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also 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. Follow @EricMcClung
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