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Raceday: Your guide to the Toyota/Save Mart 350

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013

Three things to watch

1 . Clint Bowyer won his first race with Michael Waltrip Racing one year ago at Sonoma and shows plenty of signs of a repeat, having one of the fastest cars so far this weekend.

2. Marcos Ambrose has won in both Sprint Cup and Nationwide at Watkins Glen but a win at Sonoma has eluded him. He's still a threat every time he races here.

3 . All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers had their days cut short last weekend at Michigan. Surely, that won't be repeated this weekend?

Observations

• Lots of talk that Jimmie Johnson has lost his one-race "cushion" in the points standings, where he could miss a race and still remain the series leader. In reality, that means nothing. So long as Johnson remains in the Top 10 - not just first in points - he would still receive the highest seeding possible at the start of the Chase because the order is set by number of wins, not points position. So theoretically, Johnson has a 121-point cushion he could give up and still remain in the Chase and still start the Chase as the No. 1 seed.

• For the second consecutive NASCAR Cup weekend, a Ferris wheel dots the skyline at the track. In fact last weekend at Michigan it was part of a complete carnival on track property. I always thought a carnival would go well with a race weekend, at least in terms in providing additional entertainment for race fans who elect to spend the entire weekend at the track, particularly those with small children. Tracks are coming up with more ideas every year on expanding the at-track experience, which I think is key to convincing fans to watch races in person rather than just on TV.

• Nowhere on the NASCAR schedule has the addition of double-file restarts altered the dynamic of the racing than on the Cup series' two road courses. Already-tight quarters became tighter and contact became inevitable. Also high on the list of tracks where the racing has most changed due to the restarts are Martinsville, Bristol and Dover.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy team:

Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch

Notes

Michigan 'one of those days' for Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie Johnson there wasn't any common denominators which took out all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers at Michigan last Sunday.

"My tire issues seemed to be a little different than Kasey's (Kahne). Kasey's blew out. Mine, I think I ran something over the way it went down. It just got soft and then went flat," Johnson said.

"The other two guys, (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. broke a motor. Nobody else did. And then Jeff (Gordon) got wrecked. It was just one of those days. We couldn't get out of Michigan fast enough."

The engine issue was Earnhardt's second in the past four races. One was a piston issue and last weekend's problem at Michigan was a bad valve spring.

Karsyn Elledge expands schedule: Karsyn Elledge, the granddaughter of the late Dale Earnhardt, is expanding her racing schedule to the West Coast.

Elledge, the 12-year-old daughter of Kelly Earnhardt Miller and Jimmy Elledge, will run races in mini-Outlaws sprint cars in California, Oregon and Montana this summer.

"I will be competing at a much higher level of competition," Karsyn said. "I like to race because it's fun, not just because it's my family's 'thing.' I want to race Nationwide and Sprint Cup some day."

Does it matter? While points accumulated on the two road courses certainly go towards a driver's ability to qualify for the Chase, is road course performance illustrative of predicting a champion? It doesn't appear so, at least in regards to Sonoma.

Seven of the 12 drivers who qualified for the 2012 Chase failed to finish in the Top 10 at the Sonoma race.

Just the Facts

Toyota/Save Mart 350

Where: Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

Track type: 1.99-mile, 10-turn paved road course

Race distance: 110 laps, 218.9 miles

Weather: High in the upper 70s with a 30 percent chance of showers.

TV: Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on TNT. Green flag is 3:16 p.m. ET

Radio: Performance Racing Network



Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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