NASCAR takes to the road course at Sonoma Raceway

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The typical stereotype of a NASCAR fan at a race is that of someone drinking beer in one hand, while holding a giant fried turkey leg in the other, and then mindlessly watching a bunch of stock cars go around in circles counter-clockwise.

The image is more than enough to keep plenty away from any of the oval race tracks across the country, especially since another stereotype – pick-up trucks with gun racks showing through the rear window – don’t fit a portion of our country’s politic beliefs.

But this week we have something completely different that should appeal to everyone, and not just in the USA, but also International audiences. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series takes to the road course at Sonoma Raceway where drivers will have to make both left and right turns just like the Italians and Germans do in Formula-1 racing.

Sonoma has 160 feet of elevation changes from its highest to lowest point along the 10-turn course. Watkins Glen runs much faster with longer straightaways where Sonoma has tight turns that force drivers to slow down like nowhere else.

One of the unique features about road course racing is the strategy where teams almost run the race backwards with pit sequences over 110 laps so they can position themselves to be as close to the front as possible on their final fuel run. Passing is difficult, but those that do it the best continually find themselves in contention.

The driver that has had the most success on road courses in NASCAR history has been Jeff Gordon with nine, including five at Sonoma. He considers this his home track since he grew up in nearby Vallejo. Gordon hasn’t won on a road course since 2006, but has been runner-up in three of his past four Sonoma starts.

Gordon has gone winless in what is supposed to be the final Cup season of his career, but this week looks like his best chance. The reason is kind of simple: all of his top competitors that have kept him from winning a road race lately are out of the series.

Marcos Ambrose went back to Australia, Juan Pablo Montoya left for IndyCar, Robby Gordon departed for other ventures and Tony Stewart is a shadow of his former self. The competition has dwindled, and while several other drivers have eventually become very good on the roads over their careers, others such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth haven’t had much success.

The top candidates to derail Gordon’s first win of the season, and an automatic ticket into the Chase as only 11 races remain until the tournament begins, are Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Each have won at Sonoma once, but more importantly they’ve been competitive over the long haul. Martin Truex Jr., who has been rolling lately on the ovals, won in 2013, but has only averaged an 18th-place finish over nine starts.

The dominators on the season so far have been Kevin Harvick with two wins and Jimmie Johnson with four, but their edge is completely erased here this week.

Johnson is one of those drivers that has advanced on roads very well as time has gone by, including a win in 2010. He’s finished ninth or better in his past six Sonoma starts.

Harvick was runner-up in 2007, but has been 10th or worse in his past three starts, including 20th last season in his first year driving for Stewart Haas Racing.

The best longshot this week is Greg Biffle having finished ninth or better in his past three Sonoma starts plus Roush Fenway Racing has a nice road course set-up for their cars.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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