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Sonoma next and a big contrast to MIS

06/17/2014, 12:00am EDT
By RACHEL LENZI BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Road course different from Michigan's high-speed oval

Sonoma next and a big contrast to MIS

Brian Vickers reenters the track after his car was taped together after a crash during the 46th annual Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The Blade

BROOKLYN, Mich. — During the course of the weekend at Michigan International Speedway, various NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers were asked about their experiences on the open roads.

In a bit of irony, one driver simply insisted that he wasn’t a fan of driving anywhere away from a race track.

“I actually don't have a car right now,” Brian Vickers said. “Just a bicycle. I just don't find that I need one in Miami or New York. It's just easier that way. If I need a car, I just rent one. I also don't particularly enjoy driving in traffic, so my lovely wife does that and she seems to like driving. I let her handle that.”

The timing of the question wasn’t inopportune; following Jimmie Johnson’s win Sunday in the Quicken Loans 400 at MIS, the Sprint Cup Series moves to northern California, where Sonoma Raceway will host the Toyota Save-Mart 350 on Sunday.

Sonoma is a 1.99-mile road course and one of two road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule, joining Watkins Glen International, which hosts the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen in August — the weekend before the Pure Michigan 400 on Aug. 17 at MIS.

At MIS, the name of the game is speed, as the two-mile superspeedway is known as one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks. In fact, 21 drivers ran at least 200-mile-an-hour laps during Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying session.

But Sonoma is different. It is the third different style of track Sprint Cup drivers will see in as many weeks. On June 8, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., won at Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile track dubbed the “Tricky Triangle” because of its unique three-point design.

At Sonoma, speeds are slower because drivers have to negotiate 10 turns on an asymetrical track instead of four on a traditional oval.

Even after his win in northeast Pennsylvania, Earnhardt expressed some trepidation about driving on a course that’s more akin to a winding country road.

“I can run okay at The Glen every once in a while, but Sonoma, it's embarrassing, man,” Earnhardt said. “I haven't finished in the top 11 there ever.

“Driving around the track and running that particular race, it is fun, but at the end when you get run over or you don't finish well, you're so [mad], and it's such a long way home. It's a terrible trip home when you don't run good at Sonoma.”

STILL SMOKING: Tony Stewart finished 11th in the Quicken Loans 400 and got the most screen time during a caution when he scolded Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson for what he believed was improper blocking.

“We had a way better race car [Sunday] than we had all weekend,” Stewart said of his finish at MIS. “We got nose damage when the No. 42 got impatient there and blocked us.”

Stewart is 16th in the Sprint Cup driver points standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma. Jeff Gordon, who finished sixth in the Quicken Loans 400, leads the driver points standings with 537, ahead of Johnson (522), Earnhardt (514), Matt Kenseth (513), and Brad Keselowski (490).

NEW NAME? Sports Business Journal reported Monday that Comcast Xfinity and NASCAR are in discussions to add a new sponsor to the Nationwide series.

Neither NASCAR nor Comcast commented on the negotiations, but SBJ reported that NASCAR is asking $12 million to $15 million annually in rights fees for the title sponsorship of the series.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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