The speedway formerly known as Infineon Raceway opens its gates to the Sprint Cup Series this week, and, after a tense and fast four days at Michigan International Speedway, the California road course probably will be a welcome sight.
The track’s sponsorship deal with Infineon Technologies ended this month, and the speedway officially dropped the “Infineon Raceway” name. Until a new sponsor is found or until sometime this fall – whichever comes first, track officials are calling the speedway “Sonoma,” the town in California wine country where it’s located. The track’s website address now is www.racesonoma.com.
The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is scheduled at the 1.99-mile road course Sunday. Qualifying is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. (ET) Friday.
Sunday’s race will be the first of two (also Watkins Glen International in New York) road-course events on the Sprint Cup schedule this year.
Jeff Gordon calls Sonoma “very challenging. To me, it’s a track where you have to be really precise and be more patient. At Watkins Glen, you’ve got to attack really hard and be aggressive. I feel like Sonoma is the exact opposite of that.”
Kevin Harvick has three top fives but no wins at Sonoma.
“We have been fortunate to be able to put effort into our cars and preparation time to be able to go there and be competitive,” Harvick said. “It would be nice to get the first win on that particular track in the Cup series. It’s always fun to win in your home state as we got to do last year at California Speedway. It would be nice to check that one off the list.”
Joey Logano was among drivers running road-course tests recently at Virginia International Raceway in preparation for Sonoma.
“I think as a driver you do about anything you can to get used to the track again -- on the iRacing sim (simulator) or whatever and just getting yourself back in the groove and then the typical stuff,” Logano said. “You watch the tape of the race from before, and you go over your notes from last time and kind of figure out what you want to work on when you come back there again.
“You're just trying to get yourself back in the road-course mode. It's just a little bit different as a driver because we don't get to do that every week, so it's a little bit of a challenge going back and forth.”
Although road racing has been a difficult learning curve for some stock car drivers, most now look forward to the two left-and-right races.
“To me, it is one of the tracks I look forward to the most,” Carl Edwards said. “We have had really good races and bad races there, but it is a challenge. It is so neat to drive a stock car like that, with all the horsepower and you are shifting gears and jumping off curbs and locking up the tires. There is a lot of driving going on.
“It is a very physical race, and it is usually hot out there and grueling. A good run there, to me, is special. It says a lot about not only the car and team, but there is a lot of pride as a driver to run well because it is so much work.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.