Friday, June 20, 2008

NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Sonoma

Infineon Raceway, known as Sears Point until 2002 when Infineon Technologies AG bought the naming rights to the track, is one of only two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The other is Watkins Glen International in New York.

Sears Point Raceway opened in 1968 in the rolling hills of the Sonoma wine country of Northern California. It was originally a very bare-bones operation; porta-potties were just about the extent of the creature comforts. Currently the facility, including a drag strip, hosts on-track activity about 340 days a year, everything from Superbikes to NHRA drag races to SCCA races and rallies to driving schools.

NASCAR has held regional events at Infineon from the beginning, but the Sprint Cup didn't make an appearance there until 1989 when the track at Riverside closed and NASCAR needed another west coast road course event. Ricky Rudd won that inaugural race on the standard 12 turn, 2.52-mile road course. In 1998, the track was reconfigured for NASCAR events. The Chute, a high-speed straightaway, was added, bypassing Turns Five and Six and shortening the course to 1.949 miles. In 2001, in the midst of a massive $60 million modernization of the track's facilities, the NASCAR-only track was reconfigured again with the addition of "Turn 4a" at the entrance of The Chute which increased the course to 1.99 miles.

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Despite the name, Sears Point Raceway has nothing to do with Sears & Roebuck. It was named after a geographical feature of the area which was named after Franklin Sears, an early settler.

Of course, Juan Montoya has the best average finish at Infineon. He won the only Sprint Cup race he has run there, but Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart all have average finishes of 10.0 or better. Gordon is the all-time money winner at the track with eleven Top 10s, nine Top 5s, and five wins in 15 races. Mark Martin holds the record for most Top 10 finishes, 13.

Infineon Raceway hosts one Sprint Cup race per season, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in June. The 350 refers to kilometers (352.21 to be exact). The race is 110 laps or 218.9 miles.

See "A Short History of Infineon Raceway: 40 Years on the Red Line" (YouTube)

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NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Master List

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