Winston Cup readies for wild turns

Sunday, June 22, 2003

SONOMA, Calif. -- Stock cars were never meant to go road racing.

The 3,500-pound Winston Cup cars that look so sleek and fast on ovals lumber up the hills and lurch around the turns on Infineon Raceway's 1.949-mile, 11-turn circuit.

"It's difficult," said Ricky Rudd, who enters today's Dodge/Save Mart 350 as the defending champion and is considered one of the better road racers in NASCAR.

"I've got a pretty good record on the road courses," Rudd added. "But ... it would probably be a lot better if we did it a lot more often. It's been almost a year since we've been on a road course and it's very awkward the first time you roll out there, even though I've run these things for years."

Infineon Raceway is one of only two road course events on the 36-race Cup schedule -- the other is in August at Watkins Glen International in New York.

Nonetheless, quite a few of the Winston Cup drivers are able to adjust very well.

Among the drivers in Sunday's 43-car lineup, Jeff Gordon has a record seven road course victories, including three at Infineon. Rusty Wallace and Rudd each have six wins, with two each at the Sonoma track, Watkins Glen and the now-defunct Riverside Raceway in Southern California.

Road racing specialists

Boris Said, one of four road racing specialists hired by Cup teams to race here this weekend, will start from the pole, just ahead of Robby Gordon, one of NASCAR's better road racers, and Ron Fellows, another of the "hired guns."

Wallace will start seventh, Jeff Gordon eighth and Rudd ninth in Sunday's 110-lap race.

Based on his record in Sonoma, Jeff Gordon should probably be the favorite, even though the four-time series champion failed to finish better than 22nd in either road race last season.

In 10 career starts at Infineon, Jeff Gordon has six top-fives and seven top-10's and has led the most laps five times. His road racing expertise offers him a chance to get a leg up on the other drivers in the season's top five.

Series leader Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch, the winner of last week's race in Michigan, have no wins and only five top-10's in a combined 18 races at Infineon. Kenseth and Earnhardt, second in the points, have no top-15's in a combined six races here.

"Matt's weakness, if you can call it that, is the superspeedways and the road courses," said Gordon, in third place, 223 points behind Kenseth and 38 behind Earnhardt. "Junior's seems to be the road courses.

"For us, we look at this as an opportunity. We know this is a race we can win. We've been strong here in the past and I believe we have made some gains since last year."

Wallace, whose last road race win was here in 1996, said, "Heck, we've been turning left all season so far and what we've done is left so much on the table. Maybe getting out there and turning right for a change will see us have the right stuff to get the job done.

"We've had a lot of success at (Infineon) through the years and it would be great to add to that. We're confident we'll be in the thick of things. We just need a little luck."

For all those potential winners on Sunday there will be a simple challenge.

"The challenge for everybody is to go fast and stay on the racetrack," Rudd said. "It sounds kind of simple, but staying the track is easy to do if you're going slow.

"Going fast and staying on the racetrack is not always easy to do the entire race. That's probably the key, along with making sure you don't abuse your brakes so that you have them the entire race."

NASCAR truck series

Ted Musgrave raced close to the lead, then shoved his way past Jon Wood with 14 laps remaining to win NASCAR truck series race Saturday at Memphis Motorsports Park.

Driving a Dodge, Musgrave surrendered the lead to the polesitter on the 145th lap around the three-quarter-mile oval. He was content to let Wood set the pace in his Ford.

But Musgrave caught Wood at the line to begin lap 187 and looked for passing room both high and low -- moves the leader blocked entering the first turn. The trucks touched briefly and slid sideways before Musgrave recovered to take the advantage in Turn 2.

Lapped traffic allowed defending O'Reilly 200 winner Travis Kvapil to close dramatically on Musgrave over the final two laps. But the charge fell short by a truck-length at the checkered flag.

Tracy grabs CART pole

Paul Tracy won his second pole of the CART season, surprising himself with a lap of 120.565 mph on a rainy Saturday at Portland International Raceway.

It was his fifth front-row start of the season, first pole since last month at Brands Hatch in England, and 15th overall.

-- From wire reports

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