Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Parity Than Ever Before at Sonoma

Explain Kasey Kahne's 2009 win at Sonoma? Parity? (Getty)
by Micah Roberts

There have been seven consecutive different winners at Sonoma dating back to 2005 showing a massive amount of parity compared to what we used to see in road course racing where it was only a select few that could win. None of the seven winners were road course ringers, and surprisingly, five of the winners were first time winners on the roads where they make both right and left turns.

The one correlation between drivers doing well compared to their past may lie within the introduction of the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ in 2007 -- a name that still sounds just as ridiculous today and it did yesterday, and even tomorrow.

How else do you explain Kasey Kahne’s 2009 win at Sonoma when his best finish in five previous starts was 23rd and didn't crack the top-30 in his four other starts?

Jimmie Johnson was never as bad as Kahne at Sonoma, but it took him nine years until he finally won a road race in 2009.

Prior to 2007, the Sonoma races were won by NASCAR’s premier road course drivers every year. Jeff Gordon had won five times, Tony Stewart twice, with other great road drivers like Robby Gordon, Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd capturing wins as well.

For some reason, the advantage drivers like Gordon and Stewart had with the old car isn’t as pronounced today. Perhaps age has something to do with it, but it‘s more likely that their edge was been taken away because of the COT, a car they are both still searching for their first Sonoma win with.

We could just be seeing a shift in the talent pool of today's NASCAR with the current drivers having a much broader background on the road courses than the drivers of the past. For whatever reason, it seems that drivers growing up west of the Mississippi River experienced more road courses in their maturation process than those on the east coast.

Today's NASCAR is littered with west coast drivers. The last driver from NASCAR's roots of Carolina to win at Sonoma was Dale Earnhardt in 1995.  

Last 10 Sonoma Winners
2011 - Kurt Busch
2010 - Jimmie Johnson
2009 - Kasey Kahne
2008 - Kyle Busch
2007 - Juan Pablo Montoya (first year of COT)
2006 - Jeff Gordon
2005 - Tony Stewart
2004 - Jeff Gordon
2003 - Robby Gordon
2002 - Ricky Rudd

Sonoma Notes
• Only three drivers in the top 10 in points have a road-course win: No. 4 Jimmie Johnson (1); No. 6 Kevin Harvick (1); No. 9 Tony Stewart (7).
• Tony Stewart has two wins, four top-fives and eight top-10s in the past 10 road-course races, scoring the most points during that span. He has won five of the past 15 road-course races (two at Sonoma) and finished first (seven times) or second in 11 of his past 22 road-course starts. He has led in seven of the past eight races at Sonoma.
• Points leader Matt Kenseth (24 starts) has never had a top-five on a road course and only one top-10 (eighth at Sonoma in 2008) in the past 14 such races.
• Second place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (24 starts) has never had a top-10 at Sonoma; his best finish is 11th, three times (2003, '04 and '10). He has not had a road-course top 10 since finishing 10th at Watkins Glen in 2005.
• Third place Greg Biffle (18 starts) has three top-fives (two at Sonoma) and five top-10s (three at Sonoma) on road courses, but has finished 21st or worse 10 times (three at Sonoma) and 23rd or worse in the past three such races (and four of the past five).
• Five drivers in wild-card standing have a road-course win: No. 2 Kyle Busch (2); No. 16 Kasey Kahne (1); No. 17 Marcos Ambrose (1); No. 19 Juan Montoya (2); No. 20 Jeff Gordon (9).
• Marcos Ambrose has the best road-course average finish among active drivers, 8.1 in eight races. He has finished in the top six in the past seven road-course races (all but a transmission failure at Sonoma in his first career Cup start 2008).
• Marcos Ambrose has finished 13th or better in four of the past five races, including all three of his top-10 finishes this season; he started in the top 10 in three of the past four races, including his first Cup pole at Michigan.
• Juan Montoya has eight top-10 results (four at Sonoma) in his 10 road-course races. Montoya's win at Sonoma in 2007 was his first road-course start. Both of his Cup wins have come on road courses.
• Jeff Gordon has finished in the top 10 in the past six races at Sonoma, the longest current streak. His five wins, 12 top-fives, 15 top-10s and 437 laps led at the track tops all drivers. Jeff Gordon has the most road-course wins with nine, including six in a row from August 1997 to June 2000.
• Hendrick Motorsports has the most wins at Sonoma (6) and the most road-course wins (15).
• Hendrick Motorsports has won four of the past five races this season with three different drivers (plus both All-Star races).

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