Sonoma A Challenge Again For Gordon

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Jeff Gordon, a multi-time winner at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, is hoping for a return to form this weekend at the 1.99-mile road course. (HHP/Harold Hinson Photo)
Jeff Gordon, a multi-time winner at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, is hoping for a return to form this weekend at the 1.99-mile road course. (HHP/Harold Hinson Photo)

SONOMA, Calif. – Once upon a time, Jeff Gordon owned Sonoma’s road course, winning five times, including three victories in a row between 1998 and 2000.

Times – along with the NASCAR Sprint Cup car and race procedures – have changed.

Now, Gordon, a native of the nearby community of Vallejo, calls the 1.99-mile track “a challenge.”

His last victory came in 2006 before the introduction of the current car.

“The new Chevy Impala came along and it changed everything,” Gordon said. “We’re not able to shift things (weight) around as much as we used to. This car doesn’t change direction as much. It made it a little more challenging to drive and it’s really leveled the playing field.”

The competition, Gordon agreed, also is deeper. The series’ two road races, at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday and in August at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l, once were an afterthought for many teams. No longer.

“When I started, maybe half the field took short track cars to the road course and adapted to it,” said Gordon. “Now, pretty much every car is a special car for a road course.”

Then came double-file restarts. The right line for one corner can put a driver in the wrong line for the next.

“You have to push and shove a lot more to get that position after a restart,” he said, explaining why Sunday’s race could resemble a short track scrum at Martinsville Speedway. “After a restart, that’s nowadays where the excitement comes on the road course.”