Posted 06/21/2012 at 10:34 AM
There have been seven consecutive different winners at Sonoma dating back to 2005 showing a massive amount of parity compared to what we used to see in road course racing where it was only a select few that could win. None of the seven winners were road course ringers, and surprisingly, five of the winners were first time winners on the roads where they make both right and left turns.
The one correlation between drivers doing well compared to their past may lie within the introduction of the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ in 2007 -- a name that still sounds just as ridiculous today and it did yesterday, and even tomorrow.
How else do you explain Kasey Kahne’s 2009 win at Sonoma when his best finish in five previous starts was 23rd and didn't crack the top-30 in his four other starts?
Jimmie Johnson was never as bad as Kahne at Sonoma, but it took him nine years until he finally won a road race in 2009.
Prior to 2007, the Sonoma races were won by NASCAR’s premier road course drivers every year. Jeff Gordon had won five times, Tony Stewart twice, with other great road drivers like Robby Gordon, Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd capturing wins as well.
For some reason, the advantage drivers like Gordon and Stewart had with the old car isn’t as pronounced today. Perhaps age has something to do with it, but it‘s more likely that their edge was been taken away because of the COT, a car they are both still searching for their first Sonoma win with.
We could just be seeing a shift in the talent pool of today's NASCAR with the current drivers having a much broader background on the road courses than the drivers of the past. For whatever reason, it seems that drivers growing up west of the Mississippi River experienced more road courses in their maturation process than those on the east coast.
Today's NASCAR is littered with west coast drivers. The last driver from NASCAR's roots of Carolina to win at Sonoma was Dale Earnhardt in 1995.