NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: Turning Left and Right in Wine Country

_Welcome to another edition of Four Burning Questions! In this edition, we tackle the four questions looming on the minds of race fans after the melee that was Michgan and how these questions will play out at Infineon this weekend._

*1. Will Jimmie Johnson be able to defend his crown at Infineon?*

At this stage last year, Jimmie Johnson was in mid-season form, racking up his fourth win of the 2010 season at Infineon after a colossal faux pas by Marcos Ambrose in the closing laps. But this year, despite being fifth in points, Jimmie Johnson only has one win to his credit at Talladega and has been plagued with inconsistency on the track and a slew of pit-road miscues. If Johnson is to get his season back on the winning track, Infineon would be the ideal place to get that elusive second win of 2011.

However, that will be far easier said than done, having to go up against drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon along with road course “ringers” such as Boris Said and drivers on the cusp of their first NASCAR win such as Marcos Ambrose, A.J. Allmendinger, and even Paul Menard. The hidden question in all this? Do Jimmie and his team have the wherewithal to bounce back from recent part failures and pit road problems? Whatever the answer, he’s at the ideal place for a shot in the arm given his past wins at Infineon.

*2. Can Marcos Ambrose get redemption after his heart-breaking loss last year at Infineon?*


Marcos Ambrose kept the five-time defending champion at bay all afternoon until a late caution at Infineon a year ago, and will be seeking to redeem himself at all costs this Sunday.

Last year, Marcos Ambrose had the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in hand until he did the racing equivalent of dropping a winning mega-millions lottery ticket down the sewer drain when he stalled his car under caution trying to save fuel. The gaffe cost him his position and gift-wrapped the win for Jimmie Johnson. After last year’s heart-break, one thing is crystal clear: Marcos Ambrose is going to be a man on a mission, hell-bent on wiping away the memories of last year’s slow burn. Ambrose has always been a factor to win at the road courses ever since his arrival in NASCAR, and it’s not so much a matter of if he will get that first victory. It’s just a matter of when he collects that win, and he will go full bore with something to prove after last year’s fiasco. This year, that just might lead to sweet vindication for Ambrose.

*3. Will a “road course ringer” have a realistic shot at rewriting history?*

One thing that can always be counted on at Infineon and Watkins Glen is the presence of “ringers” from the world of road racing. This year, there are six ringers vying for an opportunity to be the first to win on a road course since Mark Donohue in 1973 at the old Riverside track. And looking at the list of ringers, only one truly stands a legitimate chance of rewriting history. That driver is Boris Said. Said will be wheeling the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, coming off a win last year at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the NASCAR Nationwide Series ranks. Said has consistently been a factor in road course races over the last decade and a half in NASCAR and has been known to get the most out of any race car he steps into. Driving for James Finch this weekend could very well provide Said with, at the very least, an outside shot at victory.

*4. How will Joe Gibbs Racing be affected by their penalties for Michigan?*

The talk of NASCAR Nation this past week was about the over-weight oil pans all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars were outfitted with. In the wake of the rules violations, each crew chief (Mike Ford, Dave Rogers, and Greg Zippadelli) was fined $50,000 and put on probation until December 31st. Going into Infineon, one has to wonder if these fines will have any real adverse effect on the Joe Gibbs Racing teams and the crew chiefs. Honestly, there likely will be little, if any difference in the day-to-day operations for each team, with the performance of all three teams unlikely to be affected short-term or long-term. With Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin’s teams in the thick of the Chase hunt, it is imperative for both of them to suffer no side effects from these penalties. Only time will tell if the infractions create a noticeable impact on the teams or not.

“Contact Brody Jones”:

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