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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Sonoma preview: Montoya, Stewart top road warriors

By Mark Garrow
Jayski.com

The second segment of the 2010 ESPN Stock Car Challenge is now four races old with tree 33 and kojack99867 leading all fantasy players with 3,136 points or a sizzling 784 per race. Mjkeenan82 is just three points back, with TerryG25 and beauhorn tied for fourth, only eight points out of first place.

Meanwhile, the overall leader after 15 of the 36 Sprint Cup races is bkeels9 with a measly 13-point advantage over srider151, 10,872-10,859. In third place is walt69mopar, 56 points out of first place. Then, 13 points behind him are three players tied for fourth: beauhorn, SPEEDYGUN6, and patsyankees1225.

As for "The Guru," I'm averaging a respectable 722 points over the first four races of segment two. In my Jayski Junkies league, I'm currently ranked 22nd out of 1,284 players, with b.keeley leading followed by S.Hallisy. As for the Virginia Connection league, D. Horn of the Alabama Christian Academy is first followed by S. McCarthy, with M. Cacese and Guru Garrow tied for fourth.

Michigan race day chat review

Following my race-day crew-chief interviews, I was still high on Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin with Hamlin coming away with the win and Johnson finishing sixth. The worst that any of my top-six picks finished was eighth (Jeff Burton). I was high on Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon as well, and that trio finished second, third and fourth, respectively. I also picked Joey Logano as a potential dark horse and he sped home in 10th. I also dropped Kevin Harvick in my "B" driver rankings, and promoted Jamie McMurray as the man to replace him, which worked well. However, I would have been better off with Logano or better yet Dale Earnhardt Jr., who surprised everyone with a seventh-place finish.

Note: Our race day chat from Sonoma will go live at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday. You can also get updated by following my "Twitters" at GuruGarrow!

Road-race points: 2009

In the two road-course races last season, Tony Stewart easily scored the most points with a second-place finish at Sonoma and a win at Watkins Glen, the fifth of his career. Stewart scored a total of 370 points in those events to outdistance the 340 scored by Marcos Ambrose, who was also in the top-5 in both. Kasey Kahne was ranked third but did all his damage at Sonoma, grabbing the win there and then finishing 17th at the Glen. Rounding out the top 5 were Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin. The rest of the top 10 was Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger. The top 20 consisted of Max Papis, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, and Bobby Labonte.

Sonoma history

You'll never guess who's scored the most in the past four races at Sonoma. It's a man who's never won there or even come that close. Give up? It's Clint Bowyer, who's scored 577 points with an average of 144 per race. Just eight points behind him is Kyle Busch, with Tony Stewart third, Jeff Gordon fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. Rounding out the top 10 are Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Elliott Sadler and Jeff Burton.

If you look at the scoring over the past two at Infineon Raceway, Tony Stewart has averaged almost 155 per with a total of 309 points. Jeff Gordon is just six points behind, with Bowyer seven back. Juan Pablo Montoya is fourth in points scored over the past two years followed by Kyle Busch to round out the top 5. The rest of the top 10 are Johnson, Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Newman and Matt Kenseth.

Sonoma pre-race top 30 rankings

NOTE: The rankings are updated during the race day chats

1. Juan Pablo Montoya

2. Tony Stewart

3. Jeff Gordon

4. Marcos Ambrose

5. Kyle Busch

6. Clint Bowyer

7. Ryan Newman

8. Kevin Harvick

9. Carl Edwards

10. Mark Martin

11. Jimmie Johnson

12. Kasey Kahne

13. Denny Hamlin

14. Kurt Busch

15. Greg Biffle

16. AJ Allmendinger

17. Jeff Burton

18. Jamie McMurray

19. Matt Kenseth

20. Elliott Sadler

21. Joey Logano

22. Robby Gordon

23. Martin Truex Jr.

24. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

25. Max Papis

26. Boris Said

27. Paul Menard

28. Scott Speed

29. Brad Keselowski

30. David Gilliland

Preview

"A" DRIVERS

Juan Pablo Montoya went to victory lane at Sonoma in 2007 and I think he can do it again this Sunday. The former Formula One star is simply one of the best road racers in the world. Plus, with the added horsepower from the Earnhardt-Childress engines and a better car than what he won with three years ago at Infineon Raceway, Montoya could be destined to visit victory lane there again. In his other two races on the 10-turn course, the Columbia driver has a pair of sixth-place finishes. The best he's ever qualified is 17th and I think he'll do much better than that this time around and that should make him even tougher to deal with.

Ranked second in the "A" group is the steady Tony Stewart. At Sonoma, he's got two wins and two runner-ups, including one last year. He has also has a streak of three straight top-10 runs and average finish of 9.3 in 11 starts. He should challenge for the win again and it will be really fun to watch him and Montoya lock horns.

When you ever talk about Sonoma favorites, Jeff Gordon has got to come up in the conversation. At one point he conquered the Infineon Raceway three straight times. Gordon has two more victories, a runner-up and six more top-10 finishes in the past seven Sonoma outings. Overall, in 17 starts, the California-born driver has five wins, 10 top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes.

2008 winner Kyle Busch is ranked fourth in this group this week. Sure he finished 22nd last year, but that doesn't tell the whole story, the one where he started second, and led 10 laps before a problem dumped him back into the pack.

My other top "A" picks are Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. Bowyer finished 16th in his first appearance at Infineon and placed fourth, fourth and eighth in the past three starts. In eight runs at Sonoma, Newman has five top-10 finishes and has an average finish of 10.3, including a second-place run in 2006.

Two drivers in this category I'm shying away from might surprise some people. Denny Hamlin has been the hottest driver on the Sprint Cup Series over the past 10 races, recording five wins. His Sonoma record isn't terrible and he did finish fifth a year ago, but I don't see that happening again and too many other "A" drivers have more upside than Hamlin, whose average finish at Sonoma is over 13. The other guy I'm a little leery of is Kasey Kahne, the race's defending winner. Up until his win last year, Kahne's best Infineon finish was 23rd and his average finish, figuring in 2009, is still an ugly 26.7.

"B" DRIVERS

Here's a refreshing change: Neither Kevin Harvick nor Jeff Burton is my top "B" driver this week. The RCR pilots will have to take a backseat at Sonoma to Australian Marcos Ambrose, one of the five best road racers in NASCAR. He and Jeff Gordon did a recent tire test at Watkins Glen and the two actually got to swap cars. Gordon, who's obviously no slouch on the road courses, said he found out how good Ambrose was. When he got in Ambrose's car, Gordon admitted he ran slower and that when Ambrose got in his DuPont Chevy, he was faster than Gordon.

Add that to the fact Ambrose finished third at Sonoma last year and then backed it up a few weeks later with a second-place run at Watkins Glen, and the Aussie is a legitimate threat to win or run top 5.

I've got Kevin Harvick second in this group despite finishing 29th last year. He was running up front, though, until he got wrecked down in turn 11. He was the runner-up in Sonoma back in 2006 and also has a win at Watkins Glen. His average finish of 18.3 at Sonoma is pretty scary, but past stats have almost been no indicator for Harvick this year, as he's recorded 10 top-10s in the first 15 races with an average finish just a tick over nine.

The other three "B" drivers you should keep an eye on are A.J. Allmendinger, Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray. Allmendinger's worst finish in the past four races this year is 14th and last year he was seventh at Sonoma and 13th at Watkins Glen. Meanwhile, Burton finished 34th at Sonoma in 2009 but actually fought his way up front twice only to be spun out both times. In the three previous starts at Infineon, he had finishes of third, seventh and 13th. McMurray finished second at Sonoma in 2004 and captured the pole position back in 2007.