Two weeks ago, the Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono was decided on fuel mileage. So was last week's race at Michigan.
Can it happen again Sunday, in the series' first road-course race of the season, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, Calif.?
“I think it's almost a given that fuel will be an issue to some degree at Infineon Raceway based on the nature of road-course racing,” said Mark Martin, who won last week, despite running out of gas coming off turn four of the final lap. “We've had two races in a row, and now we go to Infineon Raceway where everyone expects it to be some type of factor.”
This will be Martin's first race at Infineon in three years. He ran part time in 2007 and 2008, skipping Infineon and the series' other road race at Watkins Glen.
“My not being out there isn't really an issue,” he said. “At the end of the day it all comes down to the car and talent and not so much practice, so I've had a couple races out there, and it won't have an impact on our racing on Sunday.”
Martin has the talent. In 18 starts at Infineon, he has 13 top tens, including one win among seven top fives.
Denny Hamlin lacks Martin's experience at Infineon - one top ten in three starts - but not the insight on what it will take to win Sunday.
“We know fuel mileage be a huge factor here,” Hamlin said. “We ran at Virginia International Raceway last week and had a good test. We spent a lot of time on handling, but we spent some time on fuel mileage also, and we hope that translates to this weekend as well as it did last weekend at Michigan.”
Hamlin finished third last week for his first top ten in seven races. He finished two spots ahead of Greg Biffle, who held the lead until he ran out gas on the backstretch of the final lap.
“Infineon is usually a two-stop race, and fuel mileage is a big factor in the outcome of the race,” said Greg Erwin, Biffle's crew chief. “Qualifying is extremely important. We need to qualify well, stay up front and use fuel mileage to our advantage and we should have a good race.”
Biffle has made eight starts at Infineon and has top-15 finishes in the last seven, including top-five finishes in 2006 and 2007. His only poor finish came in 2003, his rookie season. He was scored 37th, failing to finish the race because…he ran out of gas.
by Bill Marx/Sporting News