Here's some Sonoma storylines

June, 21, 2012

Before taking that first sip of Merlot this weekend, here are five interesting thoughts to ponder as NASCAR heads to the road course at Sonoma:

1. Biggest misnomer: Road-course ringers. The term insinuates that you are the hired gun who can win, but ringers don't win road-course events in Sprint Cup. Full-time Cup drivers win these races.

The ringer is a road-course specialist that some teams hire just to race on the two road-course tracks at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. For example, Brian Simo, a veteran sports car racer, is driving in the No. 30 Toyota this weekend.

But every Cup winner at Sonoma since NASCAR started racing there in 1989 has been a full-time Cup competitor. The same is true for The Glen, and those races date back to 1957.

2. Not the road-course star he used to be: Jeff Gordon. Many fans view Gordon as one of the all-time greats in NASCAR on road courses. It was true, but not so much lately.

Gordon has nine road-course victories -- five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen. But Gordon hasn't won on a road course in six years. His last victory at Sonoma was in 2006. He hasn't won at The Glen in 11 years.

That means he never has won a road-course event in the Car of Tomorrow, which first came to the road races in 2007.

It doesn't mean he can't win Sunday. I think he can. Gordon has posted six consecutive top-10s at Sonoma, including second last year. But he's not the dominating road-course racer he used to be.

3. A team that doesn't win much can win here Sunday: Richard Petty Motorsports. Two of the three victories by Petty-owned cars in the past four seasons have come on road courses -- Kasey Kahne at Sonoma in 2009 and Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen last year.

Ambrose is one of the favorites to win Sunday. And The King might even go rogue and take another quick sip of wine (which he did when Kahne won) if Ambrose goes to Victory Lane.

4. Bad news for Kurt Busch: Repeat winners here are rarer than a Napa Valley penguin. Even if Kurt still drove for Penske, his chances of repeating as the Sonoma winner wouldn't be good, historically speaking.

The last repeat winner on the 12-turn, 2-mile track was 12 years ago -- Jeff Gordon in 1999 and 2000. In fact, Gordon is the only driver ever to win back-to-back at Sonoma.

5. Nameless is a good thing: It's just Sonoma now, not Infineon. The Infineon sponsorship for the track has ended. So it's not Infineon Raceway now.

For the longest time I didn't even know what Infineon was. It's a German semiconductor manufacturer, if you're wondering.

And the track isn't Sonoma Raceway. It's just Sonoma.

I like that. This track is synonymous with the California wine country. And Sonoma says it perfectly. That's all you need. But they do have a cute little catchphrase that goes under the Sonoma logo: Think Outside the Oval.

Thanks, I will. And I might do a little wine tasting this weekend while I'm at it.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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