It is common knowledge that in NASCAR, the start of the season is down in Daytona Beach. That has been the theme for many years, and has no intention of changing. But, fans from years gone by know that for a long while, Daytona was not where the season would begin. In fact, it would start and end at the same place.
Not only was the track not one that was 2.5-miles in length, but it wasn't even an oval. The old Riverside Speedway would kick off the season and then conclude the year, by going road course racing.
This style of racing has shown to not just test NASCAR's best, but also challenge them to see who can multi-task inside the race car. There's shifting, braking, clutch handling, turning left and right, listening to a couple spotters, plus trying to avoid going off course into the dirt. So much is going on in one lap that in today's racing drivers are taking time to test to not just get the car right, but also to improve their skills in driving.
Road racing welcomes NASCAR this week as it's a trip to northern California, an area known for spectacular vineyards and even greater wine. Sonoma County welcomes the next race in getting to the Chase, as it's the Sonoma Raceway that welcomes the sport.
The pool writers certainly have their work cut out for them, and it made this week's picks a bit of a challenge. But, here's who each chose for the Toyota/Save Mart 350:
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
The last few races Tony Stewart has shown up with good speed. Maybe not getting the finishes he has wanted. But enough to move himself from 22nd to 16th in points. Smoke and his new crew chief Chad Johnston tested at a road course to prepare for this race. Stewart is known as one of the best road racers in the field with two wins at Sonoma.
Johnson won this race last year with Martin Truex Jr. Stewart said he expects three of his cars in the chase. Got two in for sure, maybe Sunday he gets himself locked in.
Rob Blount: Tony Stewart
A win is coming for Smoke. It’s going to be this week.
James Broomhead: Marcos Ambrose
The new for 2014 Chase format gives Ambrose his best shot yet at making an impact on the sharp end of the season. Two road courses and the Australian is capable of winning either one of them.
Billy Fellin: Jeff Gordon
Hendrick is on a streak and heading to a track where Gordon has won 5 times and hasn't finished outside the Top-10 since I graduated from high school (2006). I'll take it.
Michael Hirshbein: Marcos Ambrose
This place still owes him one from his mistake years ago.
Kara Martin: Jeff Gordon
He is due another win!
Ryan O'Hara: Jeff Gordon
Dustin Parks: Tony Stewart
I was leaning towards Ambrose this week because he certainly feels like he needs a win here, but something in me changed my mind. The last time NASCAR was at a road course, this car was there, but the driver wasn't. Smoke broke his leg, and Max Papis climbed into his car for that race, and at that point it was clear Stewart was done for the year.
Missing that race certainly has added influence in Stewart getting not only a win, but redemption. If he wins this week, it puts him in the Chase, and takes a weight off his shoulders after missing so much of 2013.
Patti Rodisch: Jeff Gordon
One of these good runs has to lead to victory and no better place than Sonoma. Gordon gets win #2 in 2014.
Aaron Rosser: Tony Stewart
Sal Sigala Jr: Jeff Gordon
Getting ready for 3 days of NASCAR racing. NOTE: Sal is in Sonoma for the race weekend.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
He's yet to become a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, but this five-time winner at Sonoma Raceway will capture his sixth win at this track. If not, I dare Jeff to grow the mullet again.
Standings after Michigan:
Kara Martin (562) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 7th - 3
Sal Sigala Jr. (540) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd - 5
Ryan O'Hara (538) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 7th - 4
Patti Rodisch (503) Jeff Gordon finished 6th - 2
Rob Tiongson (500) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 7th - 2
Rob Blount (478) Tony Stewart finished 11th - 1
Dustin Parks (468) Greg Biffle finished 20th - 2
Misan Akuya (458) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd - 1
Billy Fellin (456) Matt Kenseth finished 14th - 1
Michael Hirshbein (446) Kyle Busch finished 41st - 1
Aaron Rosser (438) Brad Keselowski finished 3rd - 1
James Broomhead (431) Carl Edwards finished 23rd - 2
Final Remarks: This week's list of picks is short, because it appears what the writers have decided on was history, statistics, and skills. There is no question the art of road course racing is a skill that is mastered by few, and it means that there is very few drivers that can be considered "road masters."
Will one of these picks bring victory to the pool once again, or will it be a surprise? Find out beginning at 2 p.m. ET on TNT.
Summary of Picks: