In the Rearview: Sonoma
June 24, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Race results | Standings
The ability to overcome adversity may be as important as horsepower and handling in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, and being able to bounce back when issues arise during the course of a race says much about a team.
While top-five finishes for Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway are no guarantees of future success, the fact that both earned their respective results in spite of early setbacks likely bodes well for both.
Gordon, fresh off a stunning 39th-place result at Michigan, overcame a pit-road infraction that dropped him deep in the field at Sonoma to register a runner-up finish and thrust him back in the heat of the battle for a possible Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup position.
Busch, likewise still feeling the sting of a disappointing result at Michigan International Speedway, also had issues early on pit road. But he, too, was able to overcome the initial setback and exit with a well-deserved fourth-place finish.
Inconsistency has been the bane of both. Gordon, who now has five top-10s on the season, has four DNFs. Busch, who earned his sixth top-10 on Sunday, has just as many finishes outside the top 25.
Perhaps for the less-experienced, early on-track issues would have signaled another less-than-stellar outing. But for Gordon and Busch, both former series champions, the setbacks didn’t erase the fact that both had fast cars and plenty of time.
Gordon was running in the top 10 when he dropped onto pit road at Lap 24 for service, hoping to beat a possible caution flag for rain. But the yellow flag appeared, closing pit road, just as the Hendrick driver made his move, and the ensuing penalty for pitting before pit road was open relegated him to outside the top 30 on the ensuing restart.
His team “just missed it by a split second,” Gordon said of the call.
“Right as I committed to come to pit road I saw the red light come up, and I knew that that was going to cost us a lot.”
His team has faced more adverse conditions, he said. “Luckily we had a fast race car and stayed with our pit strategy, and things went our way.”
Now 13th in the points battle, Gordon sits 12 points outside the top 10.
Penalized first for speeding on pit road, and again for speeding as he served his pass-through penalty, Busch went from running second to running a lap down in 38th.
But the Furniture Row Racing driver methodically worked his way through the field, regained the lost lap under a later caution, and with less than 20 laps remaining was back inside the top 10.
“I just put myself in a position that was poor trying to get too much on pit road,” Busch, 28 points out of the top 10, said. “… We came back up through there. You’ve got to rub guys and move guys and we gave guys room and (I) just made one mistake.”
Neither Gordon nor Busch have a win, making their task a bit more urgent with only 10 races remaining before the Chase field is set. While his No. 78 team still has a way to go if Busch hopes to contend for a Chase position, Sunday’s result proved it’s moving in the right direction.
MWR wants Vickers: Team owner Michael Waltrip said he is hopeful that Brian Vickers will be in the team’s No. 55 Toyota full-time in 2014, and that Aaron’s would be back as a primary sponsor.
“We believe in his ability and we love him as a person,” Waltrip said. “He's our guy, and we're trying to get all the pieces of the puzzle put together so that he can drive the 55 and race for a championship next year just like (teammates) Clint (Bowyer) and Martin Truex Jr. are doing this year.”
Vickers, who competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., finished 13th at Sonoma in his sixth start of the year with the Michael Waltrip Racing team. K&N West driver Jason Bowles qualified and practiced the team’s car in Vickers’ absence.
Hamlin’s hope: Although he gained one points position at Sonoma, Denny Hamlin is 83 points out of the top 20 and still looking for a win to put him back in the Wild-Card picture.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who missed four races this season due to a back injury, finished 23rd Sunday.
Rough start: The race hadn’t officially begun when Paulie Harraka ran into the back of Alex Kennedy as the field exited pit road. Both cars sustained heavy damage. It was the Cup debut for both drivers. “Somebody two cars ahead of me decided to stop in the go lane and why he did that I have absolutely no idea,” said Harraka, who finished 39th. “But these cars don’t stop very well on the wet asphalt.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
7. Season-best finishing position for Marcos Ambrose and his fifth consecutive top-10 at Sonoma.
27. Number of drivers with two career wins in Cup competition.
218. Number of races between victories for Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr.
THEY SAID IT
“Yeah, we were fast, even on pit road -- twice.”
-- Kurt Busch, after battling back from two pit-road speeding penalties to finish third.
“(We) should have been a little smarter. … We’ve got tools to prevent things like that from happening.”
-- Juan Pablo Montoya, after falling from second to 34th when he ran out of gas on the final lap.
"Train wreck; extremely fast train, but usually ends up derailed somehow.”
-- Clint Bowyer sums up his thoughts on former Formula One and Indy 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve’s NASCAR exploits.
Statement race: The Sonoma victory not only gives Truex Jr. an ace in the hole in the Wild-Card picture, but the points earned moved him three spots to 10th in the standings. Solid footing as the summer stretch gets underway.
Spin cycle: Contact with Jeff Burton on Lap 91 erased nearly four week’s worth of work for Tony Stewart. Both drivers were running in the top 10 when the Turn 11 incident sent the two cars spinning. The 28th-place finish cost Stewart five spots in the standings (he’s now 15th) while Burton fell three spots to 20th.
Close, but no cigar: Jeff Gordon regained a bit of lost ground with his runner-up finish, but the four-time champion has yet to show the consistency necessary to lock in a Chase spot. Currently 13th, he sits 12 points out of the top 10 and is still looking for his first win of the season.
Kentucky Speedway and the June 29 running of the Quaker State 400 signal a return to the 1.5-mile venues for the series. That may be good news for defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski, currently winless on the season. A year ago, the Penske Racing driver crashed on the first lap of practice, qualified his backup entry eighth, ran out of gas during the event and still managed to pull off the victory.