1. Marcos Ambrose – Starts 1st – Yahoo! B Group
Ambrose entered the week as my #1 rated Top Tier Elite driver and he remains in that position. On Sunday he’s starting on the pole and if he runs a mistake free race I think he’ll be unbeatable. Track position is very important here and this is a huge advantage for him. I don’t see anyone passing him on the track. When the green flag waves I think he’ll wave bye-bye to the competition. He’ll need to wave good-bye and outrun the competition because if he has to win this race on fuel mileage the level of difficulty for him will greatly be increased. Fuel mileage isn’t the strong suite of RPM teams. Ambrose has raced here four times and he’s been impressive in all of them, even when he finished 42nd (transmission failure). In 2010 he would’ve won this race but he shut off his car under caution while coasting uphill. At Watkins Glen Ambrose has 2.3 average finish. When you take away his transmission failure at Infineon a few years ago his overall road course average finish would be 3.3. Marcos Ambrose will pilot a chassis that he tested with at Virgina International Raceway. Marcos Ambrose also has added incentive to win this week because if he does Stanley Tools will donate a million dollars to the Children’s Miracle Network. In today’s practice sessions Ambrose had the best average speed rank (92.18 MPH).
2. Jeff Gordon – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! A Driver
Jeff Gordon is going to start alongside Marcos Ambrose at Sonoma. He’s had a bad luck intangible this season but at his home track he’s been relatively mistake free throughout his career. Gordon has five wins and six consecutive top tens here. I think the competition could be in trouble this week. Last year Jeff Gordon finished second and during practice Friday he said his team made gains over last year. One possible concern I have about Gordon is that this will most likely turn into a fuel mileage race. With his bad luck intangible I could see him running out of gas. Also another minor concern is that he might burn up a rear end gear. In my years of fantasy racing I’ve been burned by Hendrick cars having this problem. Jeff Gordon needs this win and I think he’ll do whatever it takes to get to victory lane. In practice Jeff Gordon had the top speed in both sessions. His average speed rank was 3rd behind Marcos Ambrose and Clint Bowyer.
3. Jimmie Johnson – Starts 3rd – Yahoo! A Driver
This Sunday Jimmie Johnson will be piloting the chassis that he’s used the last three years here (finished 4th, 1st and 7th). In these three races I think the case can be made that he’s been the best performer here (best average finish and best driver rating). People used to talk about “Jimmie Proofing” the Chase but in 2010 he silenced his critics and was able to lay claim as one of the most versatile drivers in the series. Track position is important at Infineon and Jimmie Johnson has it. He’ll start third and after the first turn I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up to second because he’ll be in the preferred line. Another aspect you have to like about Jimmie Johnson is his momentum. He’s the highest scoring driver over the last five races this season. Jimmie Johnson had a good car in practice today. He ran 45 laps and had the 10th best average speed rank.
4. Clint Bowyer – Starts 6th – Yahoo! B Driver
Clint Bowyer has been successful at Sonoma throughout his career. He’s finished 4th in half his races. Last season he finished 4th and had the second best average running position (8th) and the second best driver rating (116.5). One attribute I like about Clint Bowyer is his fuel mileage management. He’s a driver who’s smooth and that equates to good gas mileage. On Sunday Clint will be starting in sixth, that’s a lot better than his average 19th place start. In the years that he’s finished 4th he’s qualified 10th, 9th and 15th. In the years when he didn’t finish 4th he qualified 22nd, 26th and 28th. So as you can see when he qualifies well he finishes well. Bowyer will be piloting an old Bobby Labonte chassis. Another attribute I like about Bowyer is his momentum, he has three straight top ten finishes and has finished in the top thirteen in seven consecutive races. Clint Bowyer had a fast car in practice today. His average speed rank was second only to Marcos Ambrose. At Friday’s practice session he had best average speed.