Crunching numbers for Infineon

June, 17, 2010
06/17/10
9:59
AM ET

Here's a twist: It's time for road course racing!

Get it? Since they turn both ways, it's a twist. Eh, you don't care.

Anyway, I enjoy road course racing, but I understand it's not for everyone. Like fancy-dancy artsy cinema. Or bungee jumping. Or salads with goat cheese and dried cranberries in them.

By the way, none of those above things are for me, with the exception of road course racing, of course. I'm more of a mainstream cinema, white-water rafting, chef's salad kind of guy. That actually sounds like an excellent way to spend my upcoming weekend.

But this week is for road course racing, as well as the annual Strawberry Festival back in my hometown of Owego, N.Y. Everybody likes strawberries -- that's not even open for debate. Road course racing means a completely different cast of characters. We might see Robby Gordon compete for a win, or one of the road course ringers try to be the first ringer to win since Mark Donohue at Riverside in 1973.

Or it could just go back to Jeff Gordon, the winningest road course driver in Cup series history. At least this weekend we'll all share the experience of learning how to pronounce Jan Magnussen and Mattias Ekstrom. Me? I'll be breaking out my Said-head wig for the weekend.

Now, it's time to give you some of the finest in loop-data notes looking ahead to the weekend at Sonoma.

Smoke rising

Jeff Gordon may have the most road course wins in Cup series history, but it's Tony Stewart who has the best career road course average finish among drivers with at least four starts. His 7.3 mark is a spot and a half ahead of second-place Dan Gurney, who has an 8.8 mark.

Stewart has won twice before at Sonoma, and has won five of the past 12 road course races overall. But his recent Sonoma-specific numbers make him my pick this week. Over the past five races at Sonoma, no driver has had better marks than Stewart in driver rating, average position, fastest laps, green-flag speed and quality passes.

Consider that the evidence for my Stewart pick.

The other Gordon

It's easy to label Jeff Gordon a favorite at Sonoma  the dude's won there more than twice as much as any other driver. However, I'll remind you that the other Gordon is still a heck of a road course driver.

Robby Gordon's finishes at Sonoma haven't been that impressive as of late. He has no top-10 finishes in his past six races, and has a pathetic 29.7 average finish. From 2000 to 2003, Robby was a regular force at the track, with a win and three top-10s in four races.

However, digging a little deeper into the numbers shows that Robby Gordon is still the road course ace of old. In the past five races at the track, he is second in fastest laps run and fifth in overall speed. Qualifying and late-race issues have been his biggest stumbling blocks, so watch to see if he can put himself in better position on Friday to make a run on Sunday.

Lack of Speed

Considering Scott Speed's Formula One history, you might think he's a favorite at Sonoma. But not so fast there, buddy!

Last year, Speed failed to qualify for this race in his Red Bull ride, so he got in Joe Nemechek's No. 87 for the race. He ended up a lap down in 37th place.

Now, there are a couple of excuses you could give: It was his first time racing a stock car there, and Nemechek's car wasn't exactly the class of the field. But since they started tracking loop data five years ago, no active driver has had a worst average speed at Sonoma than Speed. List time!

Worst average speed at Sonoma (active drivers past five years)
• Scott Speed, 87.957 mph
• David Reutimann, 88.160 mph
• Mike Bliss, 88.274 mph
• Scott Riggs, 88.296 mph

With road course ace and possible race dark horse Ekstrom in the other Red Bull car, it'll be an interesting subplot to track how these two cars compare in the field.

That's all I've got for you this week. Enjoy the race!

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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