Sometime in the 100-mile, three-hour drive to Sonoma last year, it occurred to me that there was an event going on at Infineon Raceway.
The drive from the South Bay where I lived in Campbell to Sonoma was a straight shot on the highway and I had envisioned something similar to a leisurely Saturday afternoon drive up I-89.
I was wrong.
I was headed up to visit a buddy who was in town with his family, and we were going to tour around a few of the various vineyards in wine country. Being new to the area, it would be my first (and to-date, only) trip through the Sonoma Valley.
At first, I'd hoped to be there in time for lunch, but, as usual, I was running a little late and had thought it'd probably be 2 p.m.
Then, I hit traffic in Oakland and it was 2:30. Then, similar to a flash I-89 back up, I got stuck on a two-lane highway north of all Bay Area civilization on the way to Sonoma with no way out. That's when I remembered that INDYCAR was in town for the weekend visiting Infineon Raceway.
Oops! A little late then.
Finally, after spending about twice the time in the car that I had anticipated, I made it to the hotel in Sonoma and ran to the local quick mart for a refrigerated pre-made sandwich as my 3:30 lunch.
Once my buddy got back from the wine trip he finally gave up waiting for me to go on, we drove in the other direction, tried to learn a little something about wine (there was a whole explanation on tannins and aromas and such) and took a trip up to the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma.
All in all, it was a good trip. However, a suggestion to anyone in the Bay Area this Saturday or Sunday: keep in mind that traffic will be awful; NASCAR is in town!
*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.
Strategy: I don't usually take the time to explain the strategy, I usually just dive in. This week is different because the course is so much different. It's a road course, not an oval of any sort, so the winning driver is usually somewhat of a road course expert.
#14 Tony Stewart - Stewart developed his skill for road courses while racing in INDYCAR long ago. He's won here twice and posts an average finish of 9.3. His 110.4 driver rating here is the best in the field.
#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon is flat out dominant here with five wins and 14 top-10s in 18 starts and an average finish of 9.1.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - I'm from the camp that believes you should find nine good ovals to race Johnson on. However, the A-list is uncharacteristically shallow this week, so, if for some reason, you don't want to go with the previous two, Johnson's your man! He won here last year and has four top-10s in nine starts.
#17 Matt Kenseth - For the most part, you shouldn't stray away from the recommended starters. Kenseth is particularly bad. His 72.1 driver rating is poor and he has just one top-10 in 11 starts. Avoid!
#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne was awful here in his first five starts, never finishing higher than 23rd. Yet, the two finishes since he's won and finished fourth. For the three years before that, he'd always qualified in the top-10, so he might have simply figured out how to race a road course.
#9 Marcos Ambrose - Like Stewart, Ambrose comes from a background of road racing. In three starts at Infineon, he's finished third and sixth (and 42nd due to a transmission issue) so he should be in the hunt. He'll also spell the wear on the rest of your top B-list allocations.
#39 Ryan Newman - Newman has five top-10s in nine starts and an average finish of 11.0. The only issue you might have with him is that, similar to Johnson, you'll have nine good opportunities to start him on an oval, so you might want to go with more of a specialist.
#42 Juan Pablo Montoya - A standout in INDYCAR and Formula 1, Montoya has had a lot of success on NASCAR's few road courses. In four starts at Infineon, he's finished in the top-10 all four starts and won back in 2007.
#00 David Reuitmann - Guys like Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin weren't terrible choices so I just kind of kicked the dog on this one. He's the worst driver in the B-group and has an average finish of 30.3 here. 'Nuff said!
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - I know we're all hanging on hoping we're smart enough to start him the week he wins. Let me be clear: starting him this week would be stupid. He's got the worst driver rating of anyone currently in the top-12 and has never, never, finished in the top-10 in eleven starts.
#7 Robby Gordon - I'm a little hesitant on Gordon because he finished 36th or worse in three of the last five races at Infineon. However, he finished second last year and has the 10th best driver rating at Infineon in the field. I'm not going to risk David Ragan or Paul Menard, so Gordon isn't a bad option.
#51 Boris Said - Said is a road course specialist only and doesn't race the rest of the season. That said (you see what I did there), he's a good option this week. His driver rating of 90.0 at Infineon is just a tick better than #7's 88.3, so he could actually be considered the top C-list driver.
#6 David Ragan, #27 Paul Menard - They're the cream of the shallow C-list crop. Neither has ever posted a top-10 here. If you're still considering risking one of them this week, then clearly you haven't read any of what I've said on this blog. Continue skimming.
My preliminary roster
A - J. GORDON (9), Stewart (9)
B - AMBROSE (9), MONTOYA (7), Kahne (6), Newman (3)
C - SAID (9), R. Gordon (9)
*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.