'Road' nice detour

Jun 17, 2008 7:03 PM

Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

Roberts Top 5 At Sonoma 350
1. #20 Tony Stewart 6-1
2. #24 Jeff Gordon 6-1
3. #39 Scott Pruett 7-1
4. #7 Robby Gordon 7-1
5. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya 7-1
TOP 10s
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The Sprint Cup road race season consists of this week’s event at Sonoma and next month’s race in Watkins Glen, New York.

Those races are a huge change of pace and a welcome sight after watching a few of the same drivers winning every week in tests that require similar setups. I am definitely in the minority being someone who actually likes the road courses.

Or, at least I was.

Many longtime NASCAR fans despise the road courses citing that the roads and right turns take away the spirit and very embodiment that makes the circuit different from the other motor sports. Intruding on one-eighteenth of the season schedule with some diversity shouldn’t make too many grumble.

My favorite reason for enjoying the road courses is to watch some of the Cup regulars struggle. I’m not a negative person and don’t take delight in others misery, but it is somewhat entertaining. Watching a road course specialist take over a car from a lowly financed team and finish better than the corporate mega-racing teams is fun to watch!

What other races do we have on the circuit where David has a chance to slay Goliath? Every once in a while a few decades ago there used to be a place for the low budget cars where we would see an occasional win. Then, almost like what Wal-Mart has done to the Ma and Pa stores in America, the multi-car teams wiped out the little man and their chances to do well in races.

This race is all about the driver and less about the car, a ratio that is not comparable to on any other track. Most the time the driver just mashes the pedal and lets the corporate multi-tested horsepower do the work for them. Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne are fine drivers, but it’s less about them than having such a great research staff, crew and car.

Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart win just about every road race. They have taken all their high financed equipment and parlayed that with their exceptional road racing skills to dominate everyone. We have seen a few drivers step up like Juan Pablo Montoya last year at Sonoma and Kevin Harvick the year before at Watkins Glen. Even Robby Gordon has won a couple during the Gordon/Stewart reign, but that’s about it of late.

There are more possibilities on a road course for someone else to contend. Whether its been fuel mileage or sequence of pitting, there are several instances of lower tiered drivers, or some of the hired assassins, being in contention for a win. I love that part of it, simply for the reason of pure possibilities.

Enough rambling, let’s discuss the contenders.

It used to be Jeff Gordon would be the short favorite at 5-2 followed by Stewart at 7-2 and then a bunch of other drivers with odds of 10-1 or higher. The short odds were obviously correct because they did win most the time.

Juan Pablo Montoya came in with varied odds last season at several books ranging from 6-1 all the way to 14-1. The short price was correct because he won, but the longer odds likely were closer to what it should have been just because he won on pure fumes. Better to be lucky and cash than be right and lose.

This season there are several drivers that come in with a great shot at winning and are all around the 6-1 to 7-1 price. Scott Pruett from Ganassi Racing is the only non-Cup regular considered a legitimate candidate to win at 7-1. He’ll have good equipment and an edge over most in driving skills, not to mention that Sonoma is considered his home track.

Jeff Gordon leads the way as a 6-1 co-favorite with nine career road course Cup wins. Stewart is the other favorite with six, including a victory at Watkins Glen last season. The two have mixed it up several times on the roads and on one occasion, Stewart took his shot at punching the bully in the mouth.

One road race early in Stewart’s career, he raced Gordon hard after only a couple laps and then punched him while battling for position on a straightaway. It was strong message sent and a changing of the guard. Gordon had won seven road races up that point and has only two since. Stewart has literally taken the road course crown and title belt away from Gordon.

Robby Gordon led the most last season in this race and finished 16th after all the late pit strategies. In 2003, Gordon swept the road course races while driving for Richard Childress. His failure to win the last couple of years has been equipment.

Gordon is one of the most talented drivers and is a strong contender regardless of how terrible the team he owns and drives for. In every race this season Gordon has been placed at odds of 200-1 or higher. For this one, he is 7-1. That is the ultimate compliment in respect for his skills.

Montoya qualified very poorly last season at Sonoma, which put him at a huge disadvantage from the start. Once practice started, Montoya unleashed his fury and showed his skills by running the fastest lap the final two practice sessions.

Montoya still had to come from the back and the farthest anyone had ever come back from to win was 13th. In 15 of the previous 16 Sonoma races, the worst start position was seventh. Montoya was starting 32nd.

Impossible! Obviously not for JP, who went the last 40 green flag laps conserving fuel throughout and won a smart race.

Micah Roberts is a race and sports director with Station Casinos, who has contributed to GamingToday for the last 11 years.