In the Sprint Cup Series, road racing is a rarity. Since 1988, the series has only held two road races a season. Some fans claim that Sprint Cup cars are not designed for road courses, and thus, should not race on them. Sunday’s race might have proved those fans wrong.
The new rules brought double-file restarts to Infineon Raceway for the very first time (previous to this, all restarts on road courses were single-file), and creating borderline chaos at times. The action on track was feverish, especially towards the end of the race.
Kasey Kahne gained the lead on lap 80 on the restart from the third caution by passing the No. 87 of Scott Speed (driving in place of Joe Nemechek). From that point on, he had to hold off what amounted to a pack of wolves. As the race continued on, drivers became more and more impatient and resorted to old fashioned methods to get by rivals.
These old school tactics resulted in four more cautions, mainly due to wrecks, or leftovers from wrecks (one caution was for debris from the wrecked No. 02 of Brandon Ash). Each of these cautions resulted in double-file restarts that gave the pack another chance at Kahne.
However, Kahne, who even admitted on the radio at one point that road racing goes against everything he learned about racing, was able to hold off the late race charge by Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose on a green-white-checkered to win the Toyota Save Mart 350k.
After the race ended, Kahne was very happy with the result.
“[The victory] feels great,” Kahne said in the post-race press conference. “I’ve had issues here in the past with finishing anywhere on this course, so to qualify good… and then race really strong today was the first time that I’ve been able to pull that off.”
In second, behind Kahne was Stewart.
“I’m happy with [our run] compared to where we were yesterday in both the race practices,” Stewart said in the post-race press conference. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but it seemed like once we got 15, 20 laps into the run, we were one of the fastest cars on the track.”
In third was Ambrose, who qualified in the same position but had to come up from the rear of the field because of a blown engine in the first practice session on Saturday. Fourth was Jimmie Johnson with a personal best finish at Infineon and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
This race will undoubtedly be remembered for all the wild antics towards the end of the race and the double-file restarts. Patrick Carpentier, who drove in place of Michael Waltrip to an 11th-place finish, described it best. He simply said, “Man, those double-file restarts are crazy!”
Points Standings (Top 12)
Stewart’s run to second place on Sunday allowed him to expand his lead to 84 points over Gordon. Gordon finished ninth on Sunday, which was quite remarkable because at one point, Gordon had to serve a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road under green. Johnson maintains the third position after a fourth-place finish. Johnson also got busted for speeding on pit road early and had to serve a pass-through penalty that put him near the rear of the field. Kurt Busch is still fourth, but had to make a big comeback just to finish 15th. On lap 90, Busch was racing for the fourth spot with Johnson in the esses when contact between the two sent Busch spinning into the tires.
Carl Edwards gained a spot and is now fifth in the standings after a 13th-place finish. He is now only 33 points behind Busch. Just five points behind Edwards is Ryan Newman. Newman had an OK run Sunday, but spun out late in the race and finished 17th. Hamlin is up three positions to seventh this week after a fifth-place finish. Greg Biffle is just 17 points behind Hamlin in eighth. Biffle ran OK on Sunday until a spin coming out of turn 7 resulted in contact with the wall; he eventually finished 28th.
Kyle Busch is still ninth after a tough day. Kyle was up front until he wrecked Sam Hornish Jr. in turn 7, taking himself and Brian Vickers out as well. This required a pit stop under green that cost him a lap. Another costly spin nearly cost him a lap with 15 laps to go. To come back from that to finish 22nd was an accomplishment. Matt Kenseth is 10th, followed by Mark Martin, who had problems all day. An unscheduled pit stop due to a flat right-rear tire put him off-sequence, then a wreck on the final restart put him back to a 35th-place finish. Montoya rounds out the top 12. Sunday’s race winner Kahne is just three points outside of the top 12 in 13th.
Around the Cut-off
There was no movement in or out of the Top 35 as a result of the wild race on Sunday at Infineon Raceway. However, due to the fact that Speed failed to qualify the No. 82 for the Red Bull Racing Team on Friday afternoon, the positions have solidified themselves even more.
Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 had serious speed issues all weekend. John Andretti had the slowest practice time on Friday, and the third slowest time in qualifying. Due to a quirky collision with the No. 71 of David Gilliland, the team did not get to practice at all on Saturday due to damage to the Taco Bell Chevrolet. On Sunday, Andretti drove a steady race and finished on the lead lap in 30th. This expanded the margin over the No. 82 in owner points to 90 points.
The No. 7 for Robby Gordon Motorsports typically runs very well at Infineon Raceway. However, pit strategy killed the No. 7 on Sunday. The lap that Robby Gordon was planning on making his final pit stop, the third caution flew for Bobby Labonte’s spin. Gordon, who was leading at the time, was effectively finished. A crash coming to the white flag with Jeff Burton and Martin dropped him to a 36th-place finish. This closed the margin between the No. 7 in 34th and the No. 34 in 35th to 140 points.