Sonoma has taken over as track where tempers flare
It used to be that short tracks were the guaranteed place for the bumping, banging and blown tempers. It's now shifted to road courses, specifically Sonoma in California, where more than a few drivers will likely be raging mad by the end of Sunday's race.
"I think this has turned into the most no-holds-barred, crazy, people-running-into-each-other race, more so than any of the short tracks we go to now," Sprint Cup points leader Matt Kenseth said.
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NASCAR's last two visits to the winding road course in Northern California wine country have been demolition derbies. Jeff Gordon was the bad guy in 2010, when he tangled on track with at least four drivers in a race he deemed a "disaster — just one of those terrible days where I made a lot of mistakes, no doubt made a lot of people unhappy."
The lasting image from last year's stop at the 12-turn, 1.99-mile picturesque track was of Tony Stewart's car backed into and suspended high on a wall of tires, where he landed after Brian Vickers intentionally spun him as payback for earlier contact. But tempers were flaring all over the garage after the race. Juan Pablo Montoya left mad at Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne was angry with Montoya, and Joey Logano's parting shot for road course ace Robby Gordon was that "he drives like a moron every week."
Denny Hamlin, who said last year he'd been "Dinger'd" after he was involved in a wreck with AJ Allmendinger, said all driver etiquette seems to be out the window when the series shifts to Sonoma.
"It just seems like people don't give each other room like they used to and everyone is just a little bit more aggressive," Hamlin said. "I think people talk about driver ethics and things like that — this is a very gray racetrack when it comes to that. I think people can get away with a little bit more, maybe pay some guys back for things that happen at other tracks."
Jamie McMurray, an innocent victim in last year's Stewart-Vickers clash, had a much simpler explanation: "The wrecks are happening from people being idiots," he said.
"You can't be the guy that's run 17th all day, and on the last restart expect that you are going to pass six rows of cars in turn seven. That's what happens here every single year," McMurray added. "Somebody just does something silly. Most of the time the wrecks here just happen from people losing their mind."
Rules change in store for Kentucky race
A technical bulletin this week addressed an aerodynamic issue that NASCAR hopes will lead to improved side-by-side racing next weekend at Kentucky Speedway. But buried in the bulletin was a rule that took away a team's ability to use the sway bar as a suspension piece instead of an anti-roll bar as the car goes through the corner. That, along with an increased ground clearance on the side skirts of the Sprint Cup cars that is designed to take away downforce, take effect next week.
The sway bar issue just might slow Dale Earnhardt Jr., who broke his four-year losing streak last week in a car that Kevin Harvick said had more speed because Hendrick Motorsports had figured out how to use the piece for suspension.
"I think that there are obviously some people that have been running with the bars that won the race last week and their cars have been fast," Harvick said. "I think everybody has caught on to what they were doing with the bars ... and everybody was getting ready to venture down that road."
Hendrick Motorsports has won four of the last five races, but Jeff Gordon doesn't think it's because of the sway bars.
"What they're changing is very, very slight and I think our cars and our teams are good enough to keep the performance going with that change," he said.
Piquet Jr. wins; Villeneuve punts Patrick
Nelson Piquet Jr. held the lead on a late restart, then pulled away from the rest of the field to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The Brazilian, a former Formula One driver and the son of three-time F1 champion Nelson Sr., became a winner in his third career Nationwide start after starting the race from the pole position.
Jacques Villeneuve collided with Danica Patrick on the last lap as the two drivers were battling for fourth place, causing Patrick's car to spin out. Villeneuve finished sixth, while Patrick recovered and finished 12th.
"Where Villeneuve goes, there tends to be cars that have problems, whether it's his fault or the other car's fault or (just) stock car racing at the end of the race," Patrick said. "You all can make a decision for yourself what you think happened there."
Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1997 Formula One champion, dominated the middle stages of the race but spun out on Lap 33 and lost several positions. He had words with a member of Patrick's crew on pit road after the race.
"We were racing hard, and I wasn't even fighting with Danica, I was fighting with Max Papis," Villeneuve said in a radio interview. "And just before the braking (zone), I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. And he probably didn't know I was there so he pushed me into the grass, and you don't slow down that much in the grass."
Davis, Thatcher tied for PGA lead
Brian Davis shot a 6-under 64, and Roland Thatcher had a 65 to share the third-round lead in the Travelers Championship at 12 under in Cromwell, Conn. Both are looking for their first win on the PGA Tour. Davis made an early move, shooting a 29 on the front nine with six birdies. Thatcher overtook him with three straight birdies on the back nine and had a one-stroke lead before missing a 7-foot par putt on the 17th hole. J.B. Holmes (Taylor County/UK) finished his second round Saturday morning with a 62, the second best round of his career. But he followed that a few hours later with a 75 and was nine strokes behind the leaders.
■ Bob Tway shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Mark Calcavecchia in the Champions Tour's Montreal Championship. Winless on the 50-and-over tour, Tway won the 2003 Canadian Open for the last of his eight PGA Tour titles. First-round leader Russ Cochran (St. Mary/UK) had a 71 to drop into a tie for third at 7 under with Michael Allen, Hale Irwin and Jay Don Blake.
■ Inbee Park shot a 5-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead after the third round of the inaugural Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario.
European Soccer Championship
Spain beats France to reach semifinals
Xabi Alonso scored two goals, leading Spain to a 2-0 win over France and a spot in the European Championship semifinals. Alonso first scored with a thumping downward header in the 19th minute and then converted a penalty in injury time. Spain will next face Portugal on Wednesday in Donetsk, Ukraine, in the semifinals.
Gamecocks going for 3rd straight title
South Carolina opens the College World Series finals against Arizona on Sunday night in Omaha, Neb., trying to become the first school in 40 years to win three straight national championships.
The last word
Moments after the Toronto Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion led off the ninth inning with a tiebreaking homer, two women asleep in the the Miami Marlins' ballpark were shown on the video board along with a message urging the fans to wake them up. Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team went on to lose 7-1, could relate:
"You see those two ladies sleeping upstairs, that's the freaking way I feel. I don't blame them a bit that they were sleeping there. Right now we should be embarrassed. ... I think we are waiting for something bad to happen. This game is about making things happen, not to make the bad thing happen. The only way you survive out of this is get your head out of your butt and start playing."