June 18, 2009

The Passing Grade

There is plenty of excitement on NASCAR road courses; you just have to know where to look.

Infineon Raceway is listed as an 11-turn course, but that is a little misleading. The modern NASCAR circuit skips turns five and six, which comprise an inner loop. This part of the track was used when the series first started visiting Sonoma, but designers decided that the stock cars would perform better if a chute was added to connect turns four and seven.

They were right. The twisty segment that is currently avoided acted a lot like the current esses, only with drivers reaching much faster speeds. Not a lot of passing went on in this segment, but during the last five years, 11 percent of the total passes for position have come in turn seven. Another 10 percent come in the segment of turns two, three and four, which is an uphill climb following the start/finish line, but most of these passes are actually made in the final corner numbered "four A."

The grandstands at Infineon are located between turns 11 and one, which also provides a great view of turn 10, and there is a good reason for that. Thirty-two percent of the total passes for position come in the turn 11-12 complex—otherwise known as the hairpin and kink onto the front stretch. Another 27 percent of the passing occurs in turn 10, which comes at the end of a long sweeping left hand corner that is the culmination of the backstretch esses. That will continue to be the action spots on Sunday.

Some road racing specialists, however, have shown they can pass anywhere. Only two percent of the total passes have been made in the backstretch esses. Tony Stewart has been the king of turns eight and nine. Of the total 158 passes that have been made in that section during the last four years, Stewart has completed seven percent of them. The next most productive driver in this segment might surprise fantasy owners, however. Casey Mears has six percent of those passes to his credit and no one else has more than four.

Of course, Mears has had more opportunities to pass overall than most of the leaders. Drivers like Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Juan Montoya spend most of their time in the front of the pack and therefore don't have to overtake as many cars. With an average of 49.3 passes per race during the last four events (which is when NASCAR Statistical Services started tracking this stat), he has made the 10th most passes per race.

So who has had to pass the most cars? Among drivers with more than one start, Denny Hamlin leads the league. He's completed 64.7 passes per race in the three events he's run at Infineon. He's passed a lot of cars and that will get his fans up on their feet, but it hasn't always landed him at the very front of the pack. Hamlin finished 12th in 2006, was 10th in 2007, but only 27th last year.

Total Passes at Infineon

DriverRacesTotalAvg. per raceAvg. FinTurn 1Turn 2-4
Regan Smith17373.030.076
David Stremme16767.032.062
Denny Hamlin319464.716.32012
Michael Waltrip318461.323.32822
Brian Vickers317458.020.71214
David Ragan211557.526.5107
Bobby Labonte422957.331.33622
J.J. Yeley211457.027.0168
Clint Bowyer316555.08.0269
Jeremy Mayfield210753.514.52010
Travis Kvapil210351.521.5237
Casey Mears419749.318.03815
Tony Stewart418947.311.33041
Kevin Harvick418746.823.35417
Matt Kenseth418746.817.52721
Ron Fellows418546.322.32216
Joe Nemechek418446.028.03517
Terry Labonte418345.816.82811
Reed Sorenson29145.534.5117
Martin Truex Jr.313344.318.32723
Carl Edwards417644.017.82720
Chris Cook14444.028.0104
Jeff Gordon417243.011.02114
Dave Blaney417142.829.82926
Greg Biffle417042.58.53421
David Gilliland312742.319.7198
Elliott Sadler416942.311.83316
Robby Gordon416942.327.04226
Bill Elliott14242.019.050
Juan Montoya28442.03.51813
Michael McDowell14040.021.064
Jeff Burton415939.813.33413
Kasey Kahne415839.532.0298
Kyle Busch415739.315.03718
Patrick Carpentier13939.023.072
Dale Earnhardt Jr.415238.023.33912
Jimmie Johnson415137.819.52521
Boris Said414536.319.01414
Jamie McMurray414035.021.52921
Ryan Newman413834.59.52310
Paul Menard13333.034.035
Scott Riggs26532.525.51810
Mark Martin26432.014.0811
Sam Hornish Jr.13030.031.050
Kurt Busch411428.515.5226
Aric Almirola12727.028.080
Brian Simo25427.026.582
Marcos Ambrose12525.042.023
AJ Allmendinger12424.037.022
Sterling Marlin35919.737.0128
David Reutimann11919.040.051
Max Papis11919.035.031
Tom Hubert23417.043.096
Mike Bliss11212.039.041
Brandon Ash166.038.013


1,067 617


Turn 7Turn 8Turn 9Turn 10Turn 11-12
Regan Smith
David Stremme
Denny Hamlin
Michael Waltrip
Brian Vickers
David Ragan
Bobby Labonte
J.J. Yeley
Clint Bowyer
Jeremy Mayfield
Travis Kvapil
Casey Mears
Tony Stewart
Kevin Harvick
Matt Kenseth
Ron Fellows
Joe Nemechek
Terry Labonte
Reed Sorenson
Martin Truex Jr.
Carl Edwards
Chris Cook
Jeff Gordon
Dave Blaney
Greg Biffle
David Gilliland
Elliott Sadler
Robby Gordon
Bill Elliott
Juan Montoya
Michael McDowell
Jeff Burton
Kasey Kahne
Kyle Busch
Patrick Carpentier
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jimmie Johnson
Boris Said
Jamie McMurray
Ryan Newman
Paul Menard
Scott Riggs
Mark Martin
Sam Hornish Jr.
Kurt Busch
Aric Almirola
Brian Simo
Marcos Ambrose
AJ Allmendinger
Sterling Marlin
David Reutimann
Max Papis
Tom Hubert
Mike Bliss
Brandon Ash

705 80 78 1,678 2,024


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