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Lessons from Infineon

Inevitably, something quirky comes from the Sprint Cup Series' annual trip to Northern California.

Is it something in the air — the heady smell of ripening grapes, perhaps — or is the combination of NASCAR stock cars with the technical road course at Infineon Raceway enough to produce the unexpected on a consistent basis?

There it was: Richard Petty back in victory lane as a car owner after a ten-year absence, thanks to driver Kasey Kahne, who had never finished better than 23rd in five previous starts at Infineon. To say the least, that was an unlikely combination.

To make it even more surreal, the alcohol-averse Petty sipped cabernet in victory lane and recalled a barrel-tasting adventure earlier in the week that would have fit right into the movie 'Sideways'.

From a broader perspective, Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 was the 16th race of the Cup season, the last event before the so-called Race to the Chase. With ten races left before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set at Richmond, several drivers solidified their positions at Sonoma, while others showed danger signs.

No sweat for Stewart. Though he didn't win the race, Tony Stewart's runner-up finish at Sonoma gave Smoke his eighth top five in the past eleven races and trimmed his average finish for 2009 to 8.4. In that stretch, Stewart has a win, four seconds, two thirds and a fourth and shows no signs of slipping. Given that Stewart has a 450-point lead over 13th-place Kahne, you can write 'Smoke' in indelible ink in one of the Chase positions. At this point, it's a matter of how many races he'll win and what seeding he gets.

No security for 'Shrub'. Finishing 22nd, 2008 race winner Kyle Busch didn't lose positions in the standings, but his ninth place grew more precarious. Busch's lead over Kahne is 48 points, and a couple more poor finishes could drop the top seed for the 2008 Chase out of the all-important top twelve. With three wins, Busch is tied with Mark Martin for the series lead, but Busch needs to right his ship to avoid squandering that advantage.

Incidentally, Martin didn't do himself any favours with a 35th-place finish at Infineon. He's eleventh in points, twelve ahead of Kahne.

No Chasers for Childress. A star-crossed 34th-place run at Infineon dropped Jeff Burton from twelfth to 15th in the standings, the net effect being that Richard Childress Racing doesn't have a driver in a Chase-eligible position. Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer all made the Chase the past two years, but worries stemming from cutbacks in support from General Motors could have a profound effect on the organization. Total loss of factory support for the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series undoubtedly affects Harvick, who owns teams in both series.

No joy for Junior. A late-race wreck dropped Dale Earnhardt Jr. from a top-15 run to 26th at Sonoma and cost him two positions in the standings. Now 20th and 277 points behind 12th-place Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt has as much chance of making the Chase as Stewart has of missing it. After a promising start at Dover, where he finished twelfth, Junior's team hasn't gotten the jump-start it had hoped for with the change of crew chiefs from Tony Eury Jr. to Lance McGrew.

No revelry for Roush. It would have been out of line to expect a Roush Fenway Racing driver to win at Infineon. After all, no Roush driver has won a road-course race since Martin went to victory lane at Sonoma in 1997. What no one expected, however, was for all Roush drivers — particularly Carl Edwards — to remain winless since Matt Kenseth claimed the first two races of the season, at Daytona and Fontana.

Nevertheless, there's good news for Roush: Edwards, Kenseth and Greg Biffle are in the top twelve, and Edwards finally ended his 2009 frustration in the Nationwide Series with a victory Saturday night at Milwaukee.

Perhaps that's a good omen.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



Related Pictures

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Kyle Busch [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, applies the winner`s decal in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, races to win with Kyle Larson, driver of the 42 Target Chevrolet SS beside him finishing in eighth place Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne, a Hendrick Motorsports driver, is in the Chase. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, celebrates his win with a burnout Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne, a Hendrick Motorsports driver, is in the Chase. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by his Hendrik Motor Sports teammates Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Toughbook Chevrolet SS (left), Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS (center) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS (right) after his victory Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne joins Gordon, Johnson, and Earnhardt Jr. in the Chase. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, celebrates his victory Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne, a Hendrick Motorsports driver, is in the Chase.  (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualified for twelfth position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. After a three-race absence, Tony Stewart has returned to the track at Atlanta. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Tony Stewart at Dover International Speedway on May 30 2014. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR Media)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS, finished eighth and Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS, finished 35th Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished fifth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Doublemint Toyota, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualified for seventh position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, and the rest of the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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