Toyota Save Mart 350 Picks

Race: Toyota Save Mart 350 Picks
Date: Sunday June 23, 2013
Track: Sonoma Raceway
Time: 2 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Racing Handicapper,

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Greg Biffle came out victorious on what turned out to be a very bad day for the entire Hendrick garage. Michigan is notoriously a strong track for the Roush drivers, but typically isn’t quite as bad to the other teams as it was on Sunday. Jeff Gordon’s race ended early despite a very good car by getting tangled up in a wreck with Bobby Labonte during the opening laps of the race. Dale Jr. blew a motor late in the race, and Kasey Kahne hit the wall because of a tire issue in the middle of the race. Jimmie Johnson, who was essentially the best of the bunch until the end of the race, ended what could’ve been a potential win by hitting the wall like teammate Kahne because of tire problems.

It really was an oddball day. The track is to blame for a lot of the issues that many drivers faced getting loose thanks to showers Saturday night after the Nationwide race. The grooves were erased from the track and everything became very slick, especially with the Sunday afternoon sun. That caused a lot of guys to get loose into the turns, especially out of turn two. Cars just slid up in front of the pack and spun around. Kurt Busch had a similar experience just loosing it off the corner and wrecking a car that was leading the race.

This weekend, many drivers are hoping for better fortune as we head into a road course in Sonoma, California. Road courses are the bane of existence for many of these guys too, though. What I am most interested to see is Danica Patrick and how she fares on such a different style. One would think that this could potentially be a good track for her, as it emulates some of the style of her former Indy days. The 1.99 mile road course at Sonoma is comprised of 12 turns, with many opportunities for passing depending on a driver’s ability and the course position. Turn 11 is notable for awesome passing potential because drivers are forced to drop 1st gear since the turn is so sharp. This breaks momentum and really creates an environment for pushing other guys out of the way.

There are a few very good drivers in road course situations. Marcos Ambrose is one of those. From an Aussie driver, he is used to this style of racing and really excels at maneuvering the turns like an expert. From the NASCAR side, we have Tony Stewart. This is the type of track that forces guys to be super aggressive. This is exactly what he is good at. He gets himself into good positions and really drives hard into the turns and makes moves happen. Kyle Busch is another one to watch as he just likes to move people. Road courses are almost an excuse for drivers to be more forceful with their intent of getting people out of their way. We all know Busch is a pro at that move. Other guys to watch are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. They are both very patient and calculative with strategy, so look for them to be contenders. Here’s a look at your potential winners this weekend as we head into Sonoma:

My Pick to Win: Tony Stewart
Middle of the Road Pick: Jamie McMurray
Longshot Prediction: Marcos Ambrose

The most surprising pick may be Jamie McMurray. It’s hard to bet against him though being that he’s really racing hard. He’s been a contender more often than not and seems to run into bad luck more than bad driving. McMurray is one of those silent guys you have to watch come through the field. All of a sudden, he’s leading and no one is really sure where he came from. As previously mentioned, Ambrose is always one to watch as this style of racing is right up his alley. Tony Stewart is just going to be hard to beat in my opinion. He excels on road courses and is at a point in his season where every win and every position is pivotal in him making the Chase. This is a place that he can show he has the consistency and skill to be one of those top guys this season.

Speaking of top guys, we’ve had our share of veteran drivers fall in and out of the top 12. Michigan certainly made things more interesting with the rash of problems that the Hendrick corral suffered. Here’s a look at your top 12 drivers following last Sunday’s race:

1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Kyle Busch
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Greg Biffle
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Tony Stewart
11. Paul Menard
12. Kasey Kahne

The hardest hit driver was notably Jeff Gordon, who lost 5 positions and fell from 11th to 16th in the points. Teammate Kasey Kahne is on the edge in 12th spot after losing 4 positions. Luckily, Johnson’s problems came so late in the race that his losses weren’t quite as bad, still holding the top spot in front of Carl Edwards. Tony Stewart made strong gains getting into the top 12 this weekend after several hard fought battles over the last few weeks. He’s been absent from the top 12 spots for quite a while.

Stay tuned this week as we head into an awesome road course race, something a little different from what our NASCAR guys are used to!