Sonoma could be Juan to remember

Jun 19, 2007 8:52 AM

This week’s NASCAR road course race in beautiful Sonoma County, California will be the 7th "Car of Tomorrow" race run.

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen the car run so here’s a quick recap of how it has gone so far — "Hendrick rules the COT universe."

The last race run at Dover showed at least some of the teams and, more importantly, other manufacturers might be catching up a little bit with the Hendrick stable. Martin Truex Jr won that Dover race in convincing fashion and four of the top six finishers drove a Ford or Dodge. Jeff Gordon, who had finished no worse than fourth in any COT race, was ninth. So, maybe things are evening out.

Before we get too sure that teams are closing gap, let’s remember where the race is this week. It’s a road course where the driver means more than any race run on the Cup circuit. Drivers are either good or not. Plain and simple.

There’s no, "sort of good." Usually the good drivers race in several sports car series and are hired by team owners specifically for this event and the one in Watkins Glen. They take their regular driver and tell him to sit, while a quality road driver boosts the team’s points. This allows for a better chance of getting into a race without qualifying on time by being within the top 35 in season points.

The top Cup road course driver is Jeff Gordon with nine victories in 28 career starts. Gordon has won two of the last three seasons at Sonoma. Oh yeah, he also hails from Vallejo, California which is just a skip away from the track. The benefit of it being close for Gordon is that he gets to hear cheers when he is introduced to the fans, a rarity for sure.

When you mix in all the data Gordon has going for him at Sonoma and remember that it’s a COT race as well, it looks like he’s got an edge this week. He is the only driver to finish in the top 10 of every COT race.

In the last few years of road course racing we have seen the likes of Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Kevin Harvick come to the forefront and compete for wins against Gordon. We have also seen the hired assassins do very well when they take over cars.

Boris Said and Ron Fellows have been the most sought after drivers over the years for these races because they know every inch of the track so well. They have taken awful cars to quality finishes just because of their skills.

This year, there is a little something different for Gordon to deal with. Instead of the three really good Cup regulars and a few hired guns, Gordon now has a real ace to go against, which is going to add some flair to the road race like never before.

Juan Pablo Montoya has taken a back seat all season, while on a learning curve. He’s taken his lumps, been criticized, and hasn’t run well in many races. Now the table has turned and he gets to be the teacher and show everyone just how good he is. Montoya’s COT program has not been good when looking at the finishes. It may be more about the tracks than the COT. Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, and Darlington will be tough on anyone in any car.

Despite Montoya winning in all series on all continents on the toughest road courses from Laguna-Seca to Monaco, many didn’t think he’d fare as well in the bulky stock car. His first test was in Mexico City for the Busch race earlier this season where he looked awesome. He wanted the win so bad that he raced his own teammate, Scott Pruett, harder than most might late in the race and took the win in his first stock car road race.

The Gordon-Montoya battle will be interesting if it does unfold and will be great for NASCAR globally if Juan Pablo does something special in this race. I’ve got a feeling he’ll do very well this week.

ROBERTS TOP 5 at SONOMA

1.

#24

Jeff Gordon

5/2

2.

#42

Juan Montoya

6/1

3.

#20

Tony Stewart

6/1

4.

#12

Ryan Newman

18/1

5.

#2

Kurt Busch

10/1

EVENTS

WINS

TOP 10s

20

11

56 of 100