SONOMA, Calif. – Road courses pose a different sort of challenge to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, but they also give crew chiefs the opportunity to try strategies that simply aren’t viable at oval tracks.
The length of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway—110 laps (218.9 miles at the 1.99-mile road course)—makes it possible for a driver to finish the event using either two or three pit stops.
In the latter case, a driver must start the racing saving fuel and hope for a few well-timed cautions to assist in the process.
Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, said qualifying position was a major criterion in determine which strategy a team might use. There’s only one problem with that approach: qualifying at Sonoma is on Saturday, meaning the bulk of a team’s practice –two long sessions on Friday—will take place before a driver knows where on the grid he’ll start.
At most oval tracks, qualifying takes place on Friday after one practice session, with two more practices on Saturday to dial in the car and develop strategy.
To Vickers, Saturday qualifying at Sonoma is “a little bit of a curveball thrown into it.”
“To a certain extent, you have to know what you’re doing going in,” Vickers told the NASCAR Wire Service on Thursday at a track luncheon in San Francisco. “This year… you can always change it, but you kind of have to commit to practice what you’re going to race, even before you know where you qualify.”
Further complicating the equation, crew chiefs must set the Electronic Fuel Injection fuel mapping either for a two-stop or three-stop strategy. Once the race begins, that can’t be adjusted.