Friday, June 22, 2012

Sonoma Practice Notes: Gordon Tops the Charts in All Three Sessions

Jeff Gordon fastest in all 3 practice sessions, just like the old days (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

When looking at all three practice session times from Sonoma this weekend, it’s like getting a blast from the past to 2000, when Jeff Gordon was in the middle of his five career wins at the road course nestled in northern California’s wine country.

Gordon hasn’t won at Sonoma since 2006, but being faster than everyone in all three practices is pretty impressive and shows that his sixth win is on the horizon.

Gordon had the top speed in Friday’s first practice session that included mock qualifying runs, and was fastest in the final two practices Saturday reserved for just race runs.

Gordon was above everyone else in same fashion he was during the elite years when he was always the 2-to-1 favorite at Las Vegas sports books. Because of having somewhat of a Sonoma drought, Gordon is 6-to-1 this week. The drought is in reference to Gordon not winning, but he has still performed well at a high level with five straight top-10 finishes that includes being runner-up in last seasons race.

In those five races since his last win, he never had a car to show off like the one on display during practices this weekend. This car is fast and everyone in the garage know what they're up against.

As spectacular as Gordon looks, the dark cloud hanging over the team this season still looms large. This may be the first time Gordon has dominated all three practices, but he’s also had a few cars this year that could have won but managed to find trouble. The list of failures out of the No. 24 team is a long one. They have produced only one top-5 finish this season.

If there might be a track to get Gordon out of his slump, it might be a road course where he’s won nine times over his career between Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

Only three drivers were able to top 93 mph in the final 76-minute session. Greg Biffle had the fastest lap (93.202) for the first 25 minutes and then Gordon laid one down at 93.225 mph which stood as the top speed for the remainder of practice. Juan Pablo Montoya put down the third fastest lap (93.075) with five minutes remaining.

2010 Sonoma winner Jimmie Johnson had the fourth fastest lap (92.995), followed by former Champ Car ace A.J. Allemndinger (92.992). Allmendinger was strong in both Saturday practice sessions and should able to contend for the win Sunday.

Not only does Allmendinger have five Champ Car road/street wins, but he also is driving for the team that won at Sonoma last year. There’s a lot of grumbling about Allmendinger not seizing moments this season like Kurt Busch had done in the past. This is a golden opportunity for him to get at least a top-5 finish or maybe even his first career Cup win.

Race favorite Marcos Ambrose had the 11th fastest lap in final practice, but came in with the top average speeds. Ambrose ran 16 laps for a 92.223 mph average. MWR teammates Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. were the only other driver to average over 92 mph.

This race should come down to a Gordon-Ambrose battle down the stretch. Allmendinger and Montoya are live as well. Crazy things happen on the road courses with pit strategies and several teams being out of sequence with their fuel, but it’s rare that one of the fastest cars during practice doesn’t win on race day.

The outsiders that should make some noise on Sunday are Johnson, Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch  and Carl Edwards.    
Top-5 Sonoma Practice 3 Speeds:
1) Jeff Gordon 93.225 mph
2) Greg Biffle 93.202
3) Juan Pablo Montoya 93.075
4) Jimmie Johnson 92.995
5) AJ Allmendinger 92.992

Sonoma Practice 3 Speeds

Gordon Fastest Again in Saturday's Early Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

For the second straight Sonoma practice session, Jeff Gordon was faster than everyone around the 1.99-mile road course. Gordon will start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the front row, with Marcos Ambrose on the pole, and looks to have one of the fastest cars seen from him in recent road course races.

Gordon jumped out of the gate early with the top speed at 94.312 mph in the first 15-minutes of the 45-minute session. It was 1 mph faster than Marcos Ambrose, who was second fastest (93.381).

Brad Keselowski had a good practice 2 session at Sonoma (Getty) 
Finding their way up the charts as expected was A.J. Allmendinger, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brad Keselowski, who rounded out the top-5 speeds of the session. All three drivers showed a vast improvements from what they ran in Friday’s session.

The average speed times almost mirror the single lap speeds. In each instance, Gordon is considerably better than everyone else with Ambrose and Allmendinger being his closest competitors.

The driver that stood out in average speeds in relation to his single lap time was Clint Bowyer, who had the fourth fastest average with the ninth fastest single lap.

Some notables that performed below what might have been expected included Tony Stewart (17th) and Kevin Harvick (22nd).

Jimmie Johnson (7th) and Kyle Busch (6th) look might be a pair to contend with as they each go for their second Sonoma win, while Dale Earnhardt (20th) might just get his first top-10 Sunday.

No top-10’s in 12 starts for Junior at Sonoma, but why not now? He only leads all of NASCAR with 12 top-10 finishes on the season. He’s also got a teammate in Gordon with the best set-up on the track that it‘s likely Junior will get the benefit of.

Aric Almirola ran the most laps (26), but was only able to capture the 32nd fastest speed.

Keselowski ran 21 laps and also led the way as one of the five drivers that ran 10-consecutive laps in long runs.

The final practice session is scheduled for 10:45 am (PT) today.

Top-5 Sonoma Practice 2 Speeds: 
1) Jeff Gordon 94.312 mph
2) Marcos Ambrose 93.381
3) A.J. Allmendinger 93.342
4) Juan Pablo Montoya 93.287
5) Brad Keselowski 93.244

Sonoma Practice 2 Speeds

Sonoma Practice 3 Speeds

Jeff Gordon Fastest in First Practice Session

By Micah Roberts

Jeff Gordon laid down the fastest lap (94.696 mph) in the final moments of Friday’s first practice session at Sonoma giving him a great shot at winning his sixth pole on the 1.99 mile road course. Gordon is a five time winner at Sonoma, the last time coming in 2006.

Gordon has the look of a winner (Getty)
Unlike the previous races during his Sonoma drought, Gordon finds himself almost in a must win situation Sunday. He needs wins and he needs them fast, because his chances are dwindling.

Gordon needs a little of his past magic this weekend and all indications are that he’s got a car good enough to get him there. Chad Knaus was talking on one of Speed TV shows earlier on the day and raved about how fast Gordon’s car was at the Virginia road testing.

Gordon’s first step to winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 is qualifying well to get good start position. When the drivers qualify at 3:40 pm (PT), look for Gordon’s speed to get him a position near the front for Sunday’s race.

Martin Truex Jr. turned the second fastest lap (94.471) late in the 90-minute session that saw most teams run a qualifying set-up in the final 30 minutes. Clint Bowyer ran the third fastest lap (94.440) putting two Michael Waltrip Racing cars at the top of the charts.

44 drivers attempted a lap around the course. Road course ringer Tomy Drissi ran the most on the day with 23, followed by four others that logged in 21.

Last seasons Sonoma pole winner, Joey Logano, came in with the fourth fastest lap (94.387) followed by his Gibbs teammate Kyle Busch (94.348) to round out the top-5.

The favorite to win Sunday is Marcos Ambrose, a driver who is in a similar position regarding the Chase as Gordon. Ambrose had the seventh fastest lap at 94.314 mph.

Saturday’s final two practice sessions will be run entirely in race trim and will offer more valuable average speeds to work with than Friday where we had a mix of race and qualifying set-ups.

Top-5 Sonoma Practice 1 Speeds: 
1) Jeff Gordon 94.696
2) Martin Truex Jr. 94.471
3) Clint Bowyer 94.411
4) Joey Logano 94.379
5) Kyle Busch 94.348

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