News & Media

Aumann: Carnage took a backseat to respect at Sonoma

June 25, 2012, Mark Aumann,

SONOMA, Calif. -- A track-low two cautions meant drivers were being too polite and respectful

Hang on just a second. We were promised carnage and got car control instead.

For most of Sunday's Toyota/SaveMart 350, someone replaced the typical hell-bent-for-the-body-shop style of racing that has reigned supreme at Sonoma with what's politely referred to as "gentleman racing." And in the Cup garage, that's about the biggest insult you could bestow on anyone wearing a firesuit.

What happened to all the bent fenders and bruised egos this weekend? Usually the only thing missing from a race here is a Leonard Bernstein score. Sonoma had become NASCAR's version of "West Side Story," except the sharks play on the other end of the bay in San Jose and the jets were only there for the fly-over.

Road rage?

Despite the lack of cautions, there were still some tense moments in the final laps. Take a look back at all the action from Sonoma with Race Rewind.

But once the race started, there wasn't any ganging up on anybody. Politeness reigned. It was as if everyone had brought a dessert fork to a knife fight. Not only didn't anyone see red, but yellows seemed in short supply as well.

Eighty-three laps without a caution? What gives?

All weekend long, drivers told us how much better they were getting at road course racing. But they didn't mention how refined it was going to be. It wouldn't have been surprising to have heard, "Do you have any Grey Poupon?" on the in-car radio.

Last year, Tony Stewart wound up backwards on a tire wall in Turn 11 after a set-to with Brian Vickers. A guy not known for eating at restaurants with cloth napkins actually enjoyed not having to use his front bumper as a cowcatcher.

"Not having all of those cautions made it fun because you could actually race guys 1-on-1 a lot [Sunday] versus, you know, having to worry about getting those big packs and big groups and having to worry about whether you're going to get run over or not," Stewart said.

Thankfully, disorder was somewhat restored in the final 15 laps, thanks to jamming up the field for a couple of restarts. Common sense and good manners were once again replaced by impatience and a general distain for straight sheet metal.

And not a moment too soon.

First, Joey Logano dumped teammate Denny Hamlin in the hairpin. Then Kyle Busch and Paul Menard made contact at the other end of the course.

"I saw some stuff happening in front of me with Kyle [Busch] and the No. 11 [Denny Hamlin] and the No. 20 [Joey Logano]," Jeff Gordon said. "I don't know what went on there, but I just saw guys spinning around and we were able to get through there OK. But it didn't involve us at all."

On the final restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got turned backwards at the top of the hill, sending cars off onto the adobe clay on both sides of the track. Junior explained it away as just typical last-lap racing.

"We were all restarting there and we went through Turn 3 and we came over 3A and I just got hit in the back and spun around," Earnhardt said. "I'm sure there's a bunch of people running into each other there to have made that happen. I don't think it was anything intentional. It was just the way green-white-checkers are here."

Martin Truex Jr. was mad enough to spit nails after he felt he got clobbered on the final lap. He climbed from his car and went running through the garage area after the culprit. But that proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Or in this case, the rarely-invoked Golden Rule.

Even much-maligned Kurt Busch not only used the phrase "bunch of Boy Scouts" to describe his current team, but admitted he didn't want to put the chrome horn to Clint Bowyer because of the "respect that I was trying to give."

Bowyer summed the whole thing up rather nicely, although his opinion was certainly swayed by three things: a fancy trophy, a goodly supply of local vintage -- and the check he was about to receive.

"I thought it was the best race that I've literally ever seen," Bowyer said. "Best race in NASCAR history. I promise. That's exactly how I feel. That's my answer."

Nice guy finishes first. What on earth has NASCAR road racing come to?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.