Sonoma could be crazy again

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

By Jenna Fryer
Associated Press
SONOMA, Calif. — The winding road course in Sonoma is a perfect fit with the serenity and peacefulness of the Northern California wine country.
All that charm went to the wayside last year when 43 stock cars fired up their engines and abandoned the idea that racing around the twisting 11-turn, 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway requires finesse, patience and maybe even a bit of dignity.
What ensued was an eye-popping demolition derby as drivers ran each other over, knocked cars out of the way, and collected names for further retribution. The man at the center of the brouhaha was Jeff Gordon, the very prince of the valley.
“Disaster. It was just one of those terrible days where I made a lot of mistakes, no doubt made a lot of people unhappy and been trying to move on from it ever since,” Gordon said of last year’s race. “Thanks for bringing it up, though.”
Although the five-time Sonoma winner finished fifth last season, he left a trail of angry drivers in his wake, with Kurt Busch at the head of the line that included . Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., and Elliott Sadler.
“It was an off-day for Jeff,” Busch said. “He apologized to a handful of guys afterward and for some reason (he) pinpointed me, excluded apologizing to me.”
Countered Gordon, “I’ve tried to apologize to the ones that I really made mistakes with. There were some racing incidents that went on that day that was just racing and that you just move on and race one another however you race one another.”
Busch, a year later, believes he was owed an apology.
“I thought that was interesting because he just drove straight through our right rear, gave us a flat and we finished 32nd,” Busch said. “You have your bad days. You have your moments of beating and banging. It’s one of those things where the lines keep getting drawn further and further toward the aggressive side here at Sonoma.”
Defending race-winner Jimmie Johnson, the five-time reigning champion, said the road course racing breeds an aggression and style so different from a regular race. NASCAR races on road courses twice a year.
“When you’re in the center of the pack, it’s just an energy that exists when somebody makes a questionable move on you and your excitement level goes up, and now you make a move on a guy and it just kind of breeds this style of racing and we’re going to see it,” Johnson said. “The passing zones, drivers are so aggressive in defending the passing zones and braking zones that you have to find a different way by or just bomb it in there and eight-tires-are-better-than-four mentality and hope that you make it. I think there’s a very good chance of a lot of action taking place.”
It will be easy for tempers to explode early and often Sunday, which is why Kyle Busch is trying to take a more Zen focus into the race.
“You definitely have to be a lot more forgiving in different corners,” Kyle Busch said. “There’s a little bit of give and take out there in different areas and on particular points on the race track.”
But Tony Stewart, who complained last week at Michigan that drivers were “acting like a bunch of idiots” on restarts, is willing to wager Sunday will be exciting in a way Stewart doesn’t want to see.
“I can promise you, there will be a lot of guys that will just crash each other just because they think they can,” Stewart said. “I’ll bet anything I’ve got in my pocket that in the last two or three laps, somebody dumps somebody just doing something stupid. So there’s no doubt in my mind that’ll happen.”
That could create some nasty feuds that could carry into next week’s race at Daytona International Speedway. One that’s been to put rest is a dispute last week between teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin.
“Everything’s cool,” Earnhardt said. “We handled it after the race and talked a little bit and texted each other back and forth. In the heat of the moment, things just didn’t go my way. I was mad about finishing wherever I think we should finish that day. That’s the way it goes.”
There could be more of that post-race Sunday, where Earnhardt hinted the helipad where drivers assemble to get out of the race track could be an exciting place to be.
“This place gets interesting, especially up there on the helicopter pad afterward,” he said.
“It’s pretty interesting after the race. Everybody just sort of gets what’s on their mind out, and they talk it out, or whatever. Or they don’t talk, and it’s just kind of awkward.”