Sometimes in life, it's a good thing to change things up on occasion. Maybe it's taking a different route to work, trying out a new restaurant, or overall trying a new experience.
NASCAR does that when they change the line-up and setup for the All-Star Race, and have done so with next year's Daytona Shootout. But, those races don't mean anything when it comes to winning a championship. NASCAR does change the schedule on occasion, sometimes because of necessity, or opening a new market.
However, the same thing happens each weekend. It's all turning left, 400-500 mile events, on tracks going from a mile to two miles in length, with some above 2.5 miles somewhere in between.
This weekend is not one of those races. For the first time in 2012, NASCAR is going to make both lefts and rights in order to see the checkered flag. The Infineon Raceway welcomes the stars of the Sprint Cup Series to it's 12-turn road course, complete with elevation changes, gravel pits, and some of the tightest racing seen all year.
It means some of the infamous road course "ringers" make their return, and some drivers not often seen near the front of the pack now get their chance to shine.
So how will this play into the writers for this week? Take a look as everyone has made their choices for the Toyota/Save Mart 350:
Misan Akuya: Marcos Ambrose
Seems like Marcos Ambrose is due for a win at Sonoma. Though he broke through at Watkins Glen last year, he gave a way a win at the west coast road course in 2010.
Ambrose started off 2012 slow, but as of late has picked it up. He has a strong chance of sweeping the road courses and if he does that it would get him into the chase. He is one of the favorite this weekend for sure.
James Broomhead: Marcos Ambrose
Kelly Crandall: Marcos Ambrose
He's the most recent road course winner, having finally broken through at Watkins Glen, and he and his No. 9 team are running solid lately. Sonoma is a great track for him but little things have kept him out of victory lane, hopefully that will change on Sunday.
Billy Fellin: Marcos Ambrose
I'll pick Ambrose at a road course until he doesn't race anymore. The guy just is plain SOLID turning left and right. Sure, Stewart, Gordon and even Johnson are good at road courses, but it's Ambrose's speciality. Not to mention, RPM has a whole has been running better as of late.
Michael Hirshbein: Marcos Ambrose
Christopher Leone: Robby Gordon
I finally got a Dale Jr. pick after making them something like 8,492 times. This weekend, I'm going to throw away any good graces and momentum that might have come of that, and pick Robby.
If I get lucky again, it may be the least likely two-in-a-row in NASCAR handicapping history.
Kara Martin: Marcos Ambrose
Ryan O'Hara: Jeff Gordon
I'll take a risk and go with the 24 to pick up his first win of 2012.
Dustin Parks: Jeff Gordon
I knew going into this race that likely the most popular pick would be the No. 9 of Ambrose, and for good reason. He's definitely the favorite this weekend no questions asked, but how exactly does that help me if I want to regain some ground in the standings?
So, I have to maybe take a bit of a gamble, at least how this season has gone, and pull my No. 24 card. Let's face it, when NASCAR goes road racing, the two NASCAR regulars that come to mind are Gordon and Stewart. I don't think Smoke has gotten over losing last week, so I'm picking the guy with the most wins at this track.
One of two things will happen...either Ambrose wins and I fall farther back, or Gordon wins and I gain a lot of ground. I'd say that's a gamble worth taking.
Patti Rodisch: Jeff Gordon
His three teammates have done it this season, four times. Jeff Gordon has come close on multiple occasions this season albeit for fuel mileage, a car stopping on track coming to the white flag, bad pit stops and a few flat tires, Gordon has been close and his winless streak will see its end this weekend.
I know I have picked him before and I know that usually ends badly but this is a driver and team capable of rattling off wins and his competitors know it. His five wins at Sonoma leads the field and his solid run at Michigan last week has momentum turning for this team. He has moved his way into the top 20 in points and with the wild card his only way of making the Chase, Gordon and his team need to win.
It has been a good last six weeks for Hendrick Motorsports and their dominating runs will continue in Victory Circle with a little wine and a trophy for Team 24.
Sal Sigala Jr: Jimmie Johnson
Rob Tiongson: Marcos Ambrose
Gotta go with the Aussie - he may not have the hair to try on the Aussie line of shampoos, conditioners, and hair products, but he'll "leap" his way into Victory Lane and make like Jeff Gordon from 1997-'01.
Standings following Michigan:
Billy Fellin (536) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (2)
Christopher Leone (528) Dale Earnhardt Jr. WON (1)
Sal Sigala Jr. (520) Jimmie Johnson finished 5th (1)
Misan Akuya (518) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (1)
Kelly Crandall (511) Mark Martin finished 29th (2)
James Broomhead (497) Denny Hamlin finished 34th (2)
Rob Tiongson (474) Kasey Kahne finished 33rd (3)
Dustin Parks (473) Mark Martin finished 29th (1)
Kara Martin (471) Denny Hamlin finished 34th (1)
Patti Rodisch (460) Dale Earnhardt Jr. WON (2)
Ryan O'Hara (445) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (1)
Michael Hirshbein (430) Kyle Busch finished 32nd (1)
Final Thoughts: It's no surprise as to who the favorite is among the writers, but this is a track where sometimes the least expected guy could be the one going to victory lane. Remember, in 2002 after losing his ride at Hendrick, Jerry Nadeau hopped in the No. 43 for Richard Petty and was just a few laps from victory before the rear end gear gave out, handing the win to Ricky Rudd.
Then it was in 2009 that Kasey Kahne made the strong move to get past Tony Stewart to get victory. Robby Gordon swept the races at the road courses in 2003, scoring his lone win at Infineon that year.
Could this be one of those weekends that an unexpected driver wins his first race? Find out on TNT beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
Summary of Picks: