NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Who… is mad at who after following Sunday’s race?

This season could very well be called the year of the rivalries, and Sunday’s race lived up to the hype. Following a race that beat up as many cars and raised as many tempers as a short-track event, a number of drivers and crew members are leaving wine country more than upset.

Running among the leaders and hoping for a good day, Martin Truex Jr. appeared to be on his way to a top-10 finish. That is until Jeff Gordon punted him from behind going through turn 11. Gordon dove hard into the corner, knocking Truex’s car around.

After coming to pit road for service, Truex restarted the race deep in the field. Taking the green the field stacked up ahead of him and Truex was hit from behind. He would finish 42nd.

Dumped by Gordon then taken out by guys in the back of the pack, the typically quiet Truex expressed his frustration with the four-time champion and vowed to pay him back.

When he was told Juan Pablo Montoya was pushing behind Gordon, Truex said, “I don’t give a s***! I’m going to wreck em’ both! I’m tired of this! They’re done! Bye bye Jeff and f*&$* Juan!”

After learning Gordon had apologized over the radio for the incident, Truex shrugged it off as meaningless, saying, “Of course he said he didn’t mean it. But he did.”

“I guess Jeff figured if he couldn’t catch us on the racetrack he was going to spin us out on the restart,” Truex said. “How many times have I spun Jeff Gordon out? How many times have I spun anybody out?

“I lifted for them guys on those restarts; they get all stupid and crazy and wild, and I lift and wait and they just run into you. It’s stupid!”

Taking blame for the incident, Gordon admitted he was at fault for the wreck and felt bad for doing it.

“There’s things I’m not proud of that I did today, especially with Martin, I completely messed up,” Gordon said. “He should be [upset]. Whenever you get into a guy like that, you can say you’re sorry all you want.”

“I know he’s going to say, ‘Well, Juan [Montoya] was trying to pass me and I was trying to block him.'” Truex said. “I don’t care. Just because he’s trying to pass you, it’s alright for you to spin me out? No! Let him pass you, then.”

Truex was not the only driver upset with Gordon at the end of the day. Overly aggressive, the driver of the No. 24 beat his way through the field and ruffled the feathers of Elliott Sadler, Kurt Busch, David Ragan and others.

“I made a lot of guys mad today. I certainly owe Martin Truex an apology,” Gordon said. “He was just racing as clean as he could and I was racing with Juan Pablo [Montoya] and I just got in there and took him straight out. I feel awful about that. Other than you, you just had to race so hard there at the end. Guys were just running people off the racetrack. Running into the back of them. It was like being on a short dirt track. I know we’ve made a lot of people mad.”

Late in the race, Gordon dove hard into turn 11 – as he had much of the day – and made contact with Sadler. Unable to keep the car under him, Sadler spun and collected Clint Bowyer. No caution was thrown, and Sadler went on to finish 17th.

“It was a frustrating day. We got taken out by [Jeff] Gordon and it’s just frustrating,” Sadler said. “He took out Martin Truex for no reason. The [No.] 33 (Clint Bowyer) and me were side-by-side and he got two-for-one there, so he was just kind of knocking everything out of his way.”

The frustrations were not exclusive to those taken out by Gordon, however. Following the race, Tony Stewart hit the No. 26 of Boris Said after the checkered flag. Upset with how Said raced him in the closing laps, Stewart showed his frustration by using his car, while Said’s crew chief Frank Stoddard chose to use his words.

“When the checkered flag was over, [Stewart] went up the hill and ran into the side of [Said], knocked the whole side off the car,” Stoddard told SBNation.com. “He’s a disrespectful jerk. The guy’s got no respect. Never has, never will.”

“When the checkered flag is out, he needs to show respect,” he added. “And he does not even know how to spell the word. OK? He never has. He runs over people after he’s had a bad day.”

What… was Marcos Ambrose thinking when he shut the car off under caution?

Leading when a caution flag came out with eight laps to go, Ambrose shut his engine off in an attempt to save fuel. As he climbed the hill the engine would not fire and the No. 47 came to a stop before refiring. Ambrose drove back to the front behind the pace car, but NASCAR officials reviewed the situation and ordered the No. 47 to line up eighth. Restarting the race with four laps to go, Ambrose was never able to get close to the lead and finished the day in sixth.

The reason Ambrose was unable to maintain the lead was his car came to a complete stop, violating the rule that says, “All cars must reduce speed to a cautious pace and maintain their respective track position.”

Following the race, a disappointed Ambrose explained he was told to cut the engine off in an effort to save gas, but argued he never came to a complete stop – although the video clearly shows otherwise.

“My bad. Should have had the motor cranked up, and it never would have been an issue,” Ambrose said, adding, “It is what it is.”

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “It’s NASCAR’s house and I’ll always play by the rules. I don’t agree with it, I don’t like it and that’s only because I lost the race.”

Where… has Jimmie Johnson never won a race?

By scoring the victory in Sunday’s race at Infineon, Johnson took another track off his winless list. With 51 career victories, Johnson has won at every track on the series schedule except Chicagoland, Homestead, Michigan and Watkins Glen. While it is no longer on the schedule, he was never able to win a race at Rockingham either. Earlier this year, Johnson won at Bristol Motor Speedway, another track he was previously winless at.

When… was the last time a road-course ringer won a race?

Every time NASCAR heads to a road course, so do the so-called road-course ringers. These drivers are road-course specialists that are brought in to help a team get a good finish on a track their normal driver does not excel on. Said and others are always a threat to win on the road courses, but when was the last time a road-course ringer actually won a race?

In the Sprint Cup Series you have to go back to 1973, when Mark Donohue won at Riverside International Raceway. At the time, Donohue was racing for Roger Penske as he began his venture into NASCAR. The pair had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1972 and were beginning to test the waters in NASCAR. The team did run races at non-road course races, but not many.

Perhaps the ultimate ringer, AJ Foyt won in 1970 at Riverside. Dan Gurney had five wins at Riverside and Parnelli Jones won there in 1968.

In the Nationwide Series, however, Ron Fellows was able to score the victory in a rain-shortened event in Montreal for JR Motorsports in 2008. Fellows also has three Nationwide Series victories at Watkins Glen in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

Why… is there no road course in the Chase?

This debate comes up each time the series visits a road course, but this is a question NASCAR needs to address.

Sunday’s race proved the racing could be intense and full of action, something each of the Chase tracks should bring to the table. What this now creates is a situation where some teams look at the two road-course races – especially Infineon – as throwaway events.

The final 10 races of the year should be representative of every style of track the series races on throughout the year, and a road course should be added.

How… bad was Denny Hamlin’s day?

Coming off back-to-back wins and four top-fives in the last five races, it would have been no surprise for Hamlin to have a good day on the road course in Sonoma. Unfortunately for Hamlin, that was not the case.

Starting from the 12th spot, Hamlin struggled early on with an ill-handling car. That problem got worse when Hamlin backed into another car on one of the many restarts. With damage to the nose, Hamlin dropped through the field and out of contention.

Things got worse for the No. 11 team when the hood pins came loose, opening the hood on the track and blocking Hamlin’s windshield. Navigating his way blindly to pit road, the crew fixed the problem. Leaving pit road, Hamlin was caught for speeding and wound up two laps down in 40th.

Never giving in, Hamlin regained one of his lost laps and was in position to fight for the lucky dog award when he was caught up in the big wreck on lap 67. The team got the car back on the track, but Hamlin finished 34th, seven laps down. Following the race, Hamlin tweeted:

“Tough day, but it happens,” Hamlin said. “These guys worked really hard to get this car put back together and get back out there. It’s frustrating because we were pretty good with points, even with the damage. I definitely learned a few things for next year. All you can do is get back to it next week and we like going to New Hampshire. We’ll put this behind us.”

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