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CUP: Whole New World At Sonoma

California native and NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick is one of the drivers most comfortable competing on the Infineon Raceway road course.

But even he will tell you, the 10-turn, 1.99-mile course where Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 will be contested is an entirely different animal than the oval tracks where most of the Cup races are run.

“I grew up racing go karts on a road course,” said Harvick. “From the time I was five years old until I was 16, I was racing on road courses. When I got to stock cars, the biggest thing I had to get used to was shifting. But road course racing was all I ever did, so it comes natural to me. Racing on ovals was kind of the second stage of my career.”

According to Harvick, Sunday’s race should place some fresh challenges on the drivers.

“Infineon is such a unique animal,” he said. “You need to qualify as well as you can, and it typically comes down to strategy. Your car has to be fast. But last year was the first time in a long time where fresh tires actually meant more than track position. Track position was still important, but tires overcame a lot of track position because of the large fall-off on tires. I think that’s good, because it takes a lot of that fuel-mileage stuff out the window. We ran really well there last year, and I hit the tires in turn 11 and ripped the right-front suspension off the car. We have run well there pretty much every year.”

Here are some fast facts for this weekend’s race:

Jeff Gordon is the only driver to win five NASCAR races at Infineon Raceway (1998 – 2000, ‘04, ‘06). There have been four two-time winners: Ernie Irvan, ('92, '94), Ricky Rudd (‘89, ‘02), Tony Stewart (‘01, ‘05) and Rusty Wallace (‘90, ‘96).

• Thirteen different drivers have tasted victory on the Infineon road course: Rudd ('89, ‘02), Wallace ('90, ‘96), Davey Allison ('91), Irvan ('92, ‘94), Geoffrey Bodine ('93), Dale Earnhardt ('95), Mark Martin (`97), Jeff Gordon (‘98-‘00, ‘04, ‘06), Stewart (‘01, ‘05), Robby Gordon (‘03), Juan Pablo Montoya (’07), Kyle Busch (’08) and Kasey Kahne (’09).

• Earnhardt won his only NASCAR road-course race at Infineon in 1995.

• Montoya holds the track record for the greatest winning improvement when he started 32nd and won here in 2007. He was also the first rookie ever to win a NASCAR Cup event at Infineon.

• The closest margin of victory for a NASCAR race at Infineon occurred at the inaugural race in 1989 when Rudd held off Wallace by .05 seconds.

• Jeff Gordon holds the record for the most poles at Infineon with five (‘98, ‘99, ‘01, ‘04, ‘05).

• Irvan (1994), Martin (1997) and Jeff Gordon (1998, ‘99 and 2004) are the only drivers to win a race in Sonoma starting from the pole.

Michael Waltrip holds the record for most laps completed here. Through 21 races, or 1,999 laps, Waltrip has completed 1,770.

• Kyle Busch’s 2008 victory marked Toyota’s first victory here. Brian Vickers earned Toyota its first pole in Sonoma in 2009 (93.678 mph).

• Terry Labonte and Waltrip share the track record for the biggest improvement from qualifying to finish at 36 positions. In 2002, Labonte started 39th and finished third. Waltrip started 40th and finished fourth in 2004.

• Jeff Gordon is the top money winner with $2,229,749, competing in 17 of 21 NASCAR events at Infineon. He leads second-place earner Stewart, by more than $716,000.

• Martin and Jeff Gordon are tied for the record for the most top-10 finishes here at 13. Gordon is also tied for the most top-five finishes with Rudd (10).

• Eight of the top 15 finishers in the 2009 NASCAR event started farther back than 20th.

• The first lap of the 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 will mark the 2,000th lap of Cup Series competition at Infineon.

• NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will run the same tire code — D-4400 — on all four tire positions at Infineon this weekend. This is the same tire that Sprint Cup teams ran at this track last year. Infineon is the only track at which Cup teams will run this tire code. This tire is slightly different than the one Cup teams will run at the series' other road course at Watkins Glen. The Infineon tire is slightly softer than the Watkins Glen tire, giving the cars a bit more grip. As on all NASCAR road courses, teams will not run inner liners in their tires at Infineon.

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.