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NASCAR Barometer: A Gift in Sonoma

C.J. Radune

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2012 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The twists and turns of Infineon Raceway brought out the roadcourse specialists this weekend. Mattias Ekstrom, Boris Said, P.J. Jones and Jan Magnussen were all non-regular NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who tried their hand in the series on Sunday. The Cup regulars gave a good showing of themselves, as they usually do, despite having to turn right.

As is usual when you cram 43 heavy Sprint Cup cars onto a tight and twisty roadcourse, there was plenty of contact. A number of drivers bounced off of one another, as well as the track's curbs, creating a battle of survival for some teams. A number of drivers did not last the entire distance, and ruined their cars.

It looked as though Marcos Ambrose would take his first career win, but an unfortunate mistake robbed him of victory during the final caution. In an effort to save fuel, Ambrose cut of the engine on the up-hill climb to turn 1. That mistake allowed six cars to pass, effectively gifting the race victory to Johnson who then cruised to the checkered flag.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson spent significant time in charge at the front of the field Sunday in Sonoma after recording top-10 finishes in the last two races. He seemed to be the only one who could challenge Ambrose and eventually took the win. Johnson's roadcourse skills were on display as he was clearly the best of the oval regulars throughout the race. Good news for Johnson fans is that he practically owns New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His average finish over the last four races at the track is 6.0 with a worst finish of ninth, twice. In total, he has two wins at the northeastern track, and he should be primed to record his next top-five or top-10 finish of the season next week.

Marcos Ambrose
Ambrose was truly in his element at Infineon Raceway Sunday afternoon. The former Australian Supercar star battled with Jimmie Johnson throughout the event, and often got the better of the champion. Ambrose drove steady, clean and quick, except for one major mistake, to record his best finish of the year. Unfortunately, Ambrose doesn't have much experience on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval. His best finish in two career starts is 20th in last year's Sylvania 300. His only other result at the track is a 23rd-place run, so Ambrose's success today may not foreshadow great things next weekend. All things considered, Ambrose's specialty is road racing, and next week it is back to the ovals.

Boris Said
Even though Said is no longer a Cup regular, his performance at Infineon Raceway was superb. His only fault was running wide on restarts, which gifted the advantage to whoever was alongside him. He led laps and was consistently near the front, playing the strategy game throughout the competition. He earned a top-10 finish for his efforts, which is very deserved after the effort he and his team turned in. Said should be in action again when the series visits Watkins Glen New York, and if he is, he should definitely warrant a spot in your fantasy lineup.

Robbie Gordon
Gordon turned in a stunning performance to come home second. He drove solidly, and probably could have challenged for the win were it not for tire wear. Gordon found himself about 10 laps behind on tires after a slightly early pit stop in the closing laps. The finish was by far Gordon's best of the season so far. His next best result this season was 14th at Phoenix International Raceway in April. Gordon obviously doesn't have the team or funding to make a serious charge at a spot in the Chase, but after today he should be a valuable fantasy option on any roadcourse event. Gordon should be best to keep in your back pocket until the series visits Watkins Glen, despite his 2001 New Hampshire victory.

Greg Biffle
Biffle turned in a solid ninth-place finish Sunday afternoon in California, which will give him a lot of momentum as he works towards a spot in the Chase. He's turned in 10 top-10 finishes so far in 2010 and the one in Sonoma was his second in a row after finishing ninth at Michigan International Speedway. Sunday's finish puts Biffle in the ninth points position, and he will be looking for more in New Hampshire, a track that he has scored fairly well on in the past. Biffle won the 2008 Sylvania 300 and has averaged a finish of 12.3 in the last four New Hampshire races. He should definitely be a driver to consider next weekend as he continues to work his way forward in the standings.

DOWNGRADE

A.J. Allmendinger
Once again, Allmendinger had contact with another competitor. This week it was not with his teammate, but it still ruffled some feathers. Allmendinger and Clint bowyer were racing through the twisty esses of Infineon when the pair created a chain reaction that ended up involving Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and Elliott Sadler. Allmendinger came off the better of the bunch, but he was still at the epicenter, which doesn't earn him any more friends in the garage. Loudon results have been difficult to come by for the Californian. In his last four Loudon starts he recorded two DNFs with an average race finish of just 34.5. There is no reason why Allmendinger should be on anyone's fantasy roster next weekend.

Jamie McMurray
McMurray had a very rough afternoon at Infineon. After being caught in the argument between Bowyer and Allmendinger, he rode a curb too high in the upper loop and spun himself around, losing numerous spots in the process. The accident he was caught up in means McMurray has been involved in contact in three of the last five races. The Missouri native doesn't have great luck at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His best finish in the last four tries at the track is 18th and his average finish in that span is just 32.8. McMurray and the No. 1 team are still lacking consistency in 2010, and he wouldn't be tipped to start displaying some next weekend in New Hampshire.

Martin Truex Jr.
Truex had a great car and was running strongly in the first half of Sunday's race. Unfortunately, he found himself in the back of the field after a spin, and that was his downfall. The cars stacked up at the green flag and Truex, with a full head of steam, was caught amongst the carnage. It was a disappointing end to a very promising day. Truex can take heart while heading to Loudon. His average finish in the last four New Hampshire races is 16.8 and he also has a top-five and a top-10 finish in that time. His average start through that span is 13.8, so prospects looks pretty decent for Truex next week. Look for him to be a solid third or fourth driver in your lineup.

Denny Hamlin
Hamlin could not buy any luck in wine country Sunday. He is normally quite good on the Infineon track, but found himself in trouble in the early going, needing to make repairs to his car. He ended up caught in the same restart pile up that took out Martin Truex and Sam Hornish, which ended his day. Hamlin has been the class of the field over the past two months, so the Infineon result will be very tough to stomach. He does have an amazing record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, though, with a top-five and three top-10s in his last four starts there. His average finish through that period is 8.5. Despite his bad luck in California, Hamlin should still be in your line up next weekend in Loudon.

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