Now is probably as good as time as any to start the annual argument that road courses have no place on the Sprint Cup schedule. Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway was the first time this season the series had to make those rare right-hand turns instead of the continuous lefthand turns that we see at every other stop on the schedule, with the exception of Watkins Glen International in August.
Many fans will be quick to argue that two road course races on the schedule are a couple too many, but before you jump onto that line of thinking, take a quick look back at some of the action that we saw on Sunday.
Passing the leader was a tough act to accomplish, just like it is at any track on the schedule, but with the new double file restart rule in place, every restart bunched the field back together. This forced the leader to lay down the perfect restart if he wanted to be in the lead when he got out of the second turn.
It doesn’t matter if you have the fastest car on the track when the green flag waves at Infineon or Watkins Glen, passing is tough and can generally only be accomplished after a driver has set up another driver to outbrake him going into a turn. Now that doesn’t mean that there is passing taking place on all of Infineon’s 10 turns. There are only a couple of turns where a driver has a legitimate shot of making a pass and that takes plenty of patience, as many pass attempts end up in one, if not both cars, spinning around after contact is made deep into the corner.
Road course racing also falls under that dreaded category of fuel mileage races. Long before the haulers ever leave the shops for the cross-country trip to Sonoma, the crew chief and engineer will sit down with a calculator and start running the race from the final lap to the first lap. This allows them to know just how early they can come in for their last pit stop. Another strange twist to road course racing is that you don’t want to pit under the yellow. The laps are so long that you can pit under green flag conditions without going a lap down, while a pit stop under caution will find a driver having to come back out and fall in line behind the majority of the field that pitted under green.
Kasey Kahne’s win on Sunday went a long way toward improving the image of road course racing, as he survived several restarts on his way to his first win of the season, and in the process gave a living legend his first trip to victory lane in more than a decade. Kahne, along with teammates Elliott Sadler, A.J. Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson, make up the fourcar stable of Richard Petty Motorsports.
Richard joined up with Gillette- Evernham before the start of the season, and the name of the company was changed to Richard Petty Motorsports with Petty being the face of the new organization.
There will never be any doubt that Petty still casts a huge shadow on the sport and this, his first win since John Andretti’s trip to victory lane in the spring of 1999 at Martinsville, came as a welcome relief.
This win was as much of a company win as it was for Kahne’s Budweiser team, as RPM has been going through some tough times of late. Because of the economic troubles that Dodge has been experiencing, Petty was forced to lay off nine employees and cut some salaries after the manufacturer announced it was going to have to scale back its involvement in the series.
It was a tough deal for the entire organization as, like many of the teams in the sport, Petty was struggling to put enough sponsorship dollars together for all four teams to compete the entire season.
It’s just one win, but a win can go a long way in the shop on Monday morning as far as the attitude of the guys doing the work behind the scenes. They finally saw all of their hard work pay off, and the win also showed the rest of the sport and maybe a few would-be sponsors that Richard Petty Motorsports might just be the place to put their name across the hood of a Sprint Cup Series car!
Race Preview — Event: Lennox Industrial Tools 301. Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1- mile oval, variable banking at 2 & 7 degrees). Date: June 28, 2:15 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Kurt Busch.