Some say: “All they do is turn left.” Well, NASCAR naysayers, this is your weekend. The Sprint Cup Series turns right, way out to the West Coast, with the first of two road-course races coming at Infineon Raceway — the site of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350. It’s an 11-turn road course tucked in the hills of northern California wine country. Infineon Raceway rolls. It undulates. It cuts left and — you guessed it — right. Infineon makes for a fantastic stop on the Sprint Cup circuit (oh, and San Francisco and a gazillion wineries aren’t far away, either).
4 . KASEY KAHNE
PLENTY LEFT … NOT SO MUCH: Just past the lap-150 mark Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Kasey Kahne peeled onto pit road while running in the top five. Problem was, the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota was out of gas. As competitors zoomed past under green, Kahne kept trying to re-fire a lifeless car. Once the No. 4 woke up and returned to the race, Kahne was two laps down and outside the top 30. He eventually finished a lap down in 28th. The car, however, was strong, as the No. 4 ran in the top 15 for nearly 70 percent of the race.
A-TEAM: Ever heard of the expression, “bring you’re ‘A’ game?” Kahne said drivers need that and more, much more, at Infineon Raceway. “The hardest part at Sonoma is tough to pinpoint. I think that every part of it is hard. There is a lot going on there and we don’t race that type of track often. You have to really be on your game and you need the whole team to be on point, too. There is a lot that goes on there at that race track and I need to really keep my eyes open. One little mistake there and you will lose a lot.” Regardless of his staunch evaluation of the 11-turn road course, Kahne owns a victory there (2009) and two poles (2008, 2010).
VITAL SIGNS: Post-Michigan, Kahne slipped to 19th — 13 points ahead of 20th-place Martin Truex Jr., but still 68 points out of 10th.
83 . BRIAN VICKERS
10TH IN THE IRISH HILLS: While running fourth in Sunday’s 400-miler at Michigan International Speedway, Vickers pitted under green on lap 157. He and the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota team say they were down, away and long gone by the time the No. 18 crossed the start-finish line under the race’s fourth caution flag. But NASCAR officials scored the No. 83 one lap down. The team was forced to take the wave-around and restarted 20th on lap 163. Vickers drove to 15th over the next 27 laps, got a timely caution, took right-side tires and resumed his ascent. He climbed to 10th at the checkered flag for his fifth top 10 of the season and eighth in 13 starts at the 2-mile oval.
ONE YEAR AGO: Last season, 32-year-old Red Bull driver and two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekström made his Sprint Cup debut at Infineon in the No. 83, filling in for regular driver Brian Vickers while he recovered from blood clots.
VITAL SIGNS: After a top 10 at Michigan, Vickers climbed two spots in the driver standings to 24th — 28 points out of 20th.
LONG TIME AGO: In Vickers’ last race at Infineon Raceway — June 2009 — the No. 83 took the pole and led the first 16 laps before finishing 16th. Vickers once won the West Series race at Infineon after leading 61 of 64 laps in 2006. Since joining Red Bull Racing Team, Vickers has two top-16 finishes — 14th in 2008 and 16th in 2009.
AVOID THE CURBS: “You want to hit the corners that are important, get in the gas when important, keep the throttle down, not hit the curbs or make mistakes — and when you can put all of that together, you will come out of there with a top-10 or 15 finish. It’s a great track — very technical. The elevation changes, blind corners and lack of run-off room make Infineon a difficult course to get around. We had a really strong run going in 2009, and after a year away, I’m excited and ready to build upon what we learned.”
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