It's not uncommon for some NASCAR drivers to begin the season with doing something out of their element.  The official kickoff to the racing season as a whole is at Daytona, in the Rolex 24.

The road course at Daytona presents many unique challenges, especially with drivers that are not used to road racing.

In the long run, that can prove to be an advantage because it gives experience in shifting gears, swinging the wheel in both directions, and also how to control and conserve the brakes.

This week, NASCAR takes all those elements and puts them to the ultimate test.  Out to the Sonoma Raceway goes the top drivers for the first of two road course events of the season.  This track goes uphill, downhill, has tight right-hand turns, tight left-hand turns, and a huge u-turn before the finish line that has proven to be a great passing zone, but also can be calamity corner.

It's unique in both the track itself, and now qualifying procedures, as for the first time, drivers will qualify in groups, with their best lap during their designated time serving as their time.

This makes for a unique experience, and also makes for a difficult choice for the writers.  But, the picks are locked in and ready for another week of predictions.

Here's their choices for the Toyota-Save Mart 350:

 

Misan Akuya:  Tony Stewart

Marcos Ambrose tested at Sonoma so we all know he will be blistering fast.  But Smoke is on a roll.  And he is a great road racer with two at Sonoma and seven road course wins total.

Now that he is in the top ten in points another win would help that championship effort.

Rob Blount:  Tony Stewart

He’s on a hot streak right at the time that he usually gets hot. He’s one of the best road racers in the history of NASCAR.

As long as Jacques Villenueve in the 51 doesn’t get anywhere near him, Smoke should be fine.

James Broomhead:  Marcos Ambrose

No reason.

Kelly Crandall:  Kurt Busch

He's getting so close to breaking through.  They've got the car, the driver and now a perfect race track.

Busch has become quite the road racer lately and last year in the 51 car for James Finch, he nearly won this race.

Billy Fellin:  Marcos Ambrose

Here's a shock...we're going to a road course and I'm picking Ambrose. He's got a finish of 5.5 in his last five Sonoma races, according to NASCAR.com.  Works for me.

Michael Hirshbein:  Marcos Ambrose

No reason.

Christopher Leone:  NO PICK SENT

No pick submitted by posting time.

Kara Martin:  Tony Stewart

No reason.

Ryan O'Hara:  Juan Pablo Montoya

No reason.

Dustin Parks:  Jeff Gordon

This is getting to be a harder track to pick each year.  Many regulars have begun taking a lot more time in learning how to road race, and it's made it difficult to decide.

But earlier this week, after having barely raced at Michigan, Gordon was already looking forward to heading to Sonoma.  Plus, his little girl celebrated her sixth birthday this week.

Sonoma has always been good to Gordon, with his last win coming in 2007, the same weekend he got engaged to Ingrid.  I'd say this could be a special weekend for "Big Daddy."

Patti Rodisch:  Marcos Ambrose

No reason.

Sal Sigala Jr:  Jimmie Johnson

I am spending 4 days here at Sonoma covering the race and also taking photos for Canadian race team Admiraal Racing in Saturdays K&N West series.

Rob Tiongson:  Marcos Ambrose

Gotta think this guy's gonna get the job done, as he's a two-time Watkins Glen Raceway victor and he'd sure like to "wine" about Sonoma, CA!

 

Standings following Michigan:

Rob Tiongson (530) Carl Edwards finished 8th (1)

Patti Rodisch (523) Jimmie Johnson finished 28th (0)

Kelly Crandall (496) Kyle Busch finished 4th (1)

Billy Fellin (477) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th (1)

Rob Blount (473) Jimmie Johnson finished 28th (1)

Dustin Parks (460) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th (0)

Sal Sigala Jr(454) Matt Kenseth finished 6th (0)

Michael Hirshbein (452) Kyle Busch finished 4th (2)

James Broomhead (443) Matt Kenseth finished 6th (1)

Ryan O'Hara (440) NO PICK SENT (0)

Kara Martin (427) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th (0)

Misan Akuya (370) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th (0)

Christopher Leone (347) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 37th (0)

 

Final Thoughts:  The trick to understanding how to road race is to understand that there is more driver input at these kind of tracks than any other on the circuit.  The driver must manage the brakes, maintain the transmission, keep the car on the pavement and out of the dirt, and know when the best time to gain track position will be.

There is a lot that goes into road racing, but just like any other week, the best always rise to the top.

It's a later start for fans this week, as TNT will kick off coverage at 2 p.m. ET with "Countdown to Green."  The race will go green about an hour later.

 

Summary of Picks:

Marcos Ambrose-5

Tony Stewart-3

Kurt Busch-1

Jeff Gordon-1

Jimmie Johnson-1

Juan Pablo Montoya-1