NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2011 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Welcome to this week’s edition of Big Six, where we put our own clever twist on the Who/What/When/Where/Why/& Hows of Sunday afternoon’s race at Infineon Raceway. This week, I, Brody Jones, will be filling in for Amy this week. Fret not, loyal Frontstretch readers, for Amy will be back next week. But for now, enjoy this week’s edition of Big Six.

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Employing strategy similar to the Penske Racing cars, David Gilliland had to scratch and claw for his 12th-place result at Infineon. Gilliland ran in the top 10 much of the afternoon and held off stiff challenges from Juan Pablo Montoya and others to score a commendable top-15 effort. This track has been good to Gilliland in the past, with a second-place finish back in 2008. With a solid effort today, he gives his Front Row Motorsports team a bit of breathing room in the Top-35 owner points battle.

What… was THAT?

The word for today at Infineon Raceway was “payback” as Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart each had no qualms about wrecking each other. The fracas started on lap 38 when Stewart did his best bulldozer impersonation, shoving Vickers from behind for about 20 feet going into turn 11, causing a three-car pileup that took Vickers out of contention. In the closing stages with about 20 laps to go, Vickers decided that one bad turn deserved another as he plowed into Stewart, sending Tony spinning into the turn 11 barrier with his car suspended above the tire barrier. After the race, both drivers acknowledged what Vickers did was payback, but Stewart claimed Vickers was blocking him. Vickers, for his part, denied blocking Stewart. But perhaps the biggest undertone in all of this is the fact that if anyone else blocks Stewart this year, they can expect to get knocked out of the way. Smoke said so himself.

Where… did the polesitter end up?

When one thinks of drivers capable of sitting on the pole for Infineon, it’s likely no one, save possibly Joey Logano’s immediate family and friends, thought he had a prayer of qualifying in the top 10, much less winning the pole. Even Logano was surprised by his pole run. Those same people that doubted Logano upon learning that he was on the pole likely dismissed it as a fluke. However, at the end of the day, “Sliced Bread” rose to the occasion. He led in the early stages and, despite Robby Gordon trying to bully him in the mid-stages of the race, persevered and finished a strong sixth. A run like this just may be the much-needed shot in the arm this team needs to get Logano in the top 20 in points and close out the season on a high note amid an uncertain 2012 and beyond.

When… will I be loved?

Montoya was not making many friends on the track at Infineon. He dumped Kasey Kahne late-race, knocking the latter out of a potential top-five finish, and tried to knock Brad Keselowski off the track before Keselowski doled out payback and spun Montoya out, relegating him from contention. After the race, the normally placid Kahne fired some uncharacteristic verbal potshots at Montoya’s NASCAR driving ability. Montoya, for his part, claimed Kahne was blocking him when video evidence clearly showed that Montoya, in fact, drove squarely into Kahne, spinning him out. Between Ryan Newman and Kahne, Juan Pablo’s not making very many friends in NASCAR circles.

Why… was there so much beating and banging?

When NASCAR fans think of tracks with beating and banging, Infineon normally doesn’t come to mind. But in the last two years, the track has developed something of a reputation for trading paint and banged-up racecars along the lines of Martinsville and Bristol. Turn 11 was the primary trouble spot on the afternoon, with three of the race’s five cautions coming in that vicinity. Vickers (twice), Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Logano, Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Michael McDowell were all among others crossing swords in that turn, not to mention the numerous spin-outs on the afternoon. Road-course racing just might becoming the new short-track racing for NASCAR with all this contact and excitement.

How… did the road-course ringers fare?

With much ado having been made in the past about road-course ringers, none of the five ringers were even a factor in the race. Andy Pilgrim in 26th was the highest finishing ringer as Boris Said, at times, flirted with the top 10, but had a late-race incident with Jeff Burton that knocked him back to 28th. Chris Cook and Brian Simo were non-factors in 27th and 33rd, respectively, while PJ Jones parked his car early in the event. As a result, the ringer losing streak stretching back to 1973 will continue at least until Watkins Glen.

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