SONOMA, CA - JUNE 24: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, celebrates with the checkered flag on pit road after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma on June 24, 2012 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

NASCAR At Sonoma 2012: Clint Bowyer Picks Up Surprising Win

Despite not being known as one of the top road-course racers, Bowyer held off Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch to win Sunday's race at Sonoma.

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NASCAR Point Standings After Sonoma: Matt Kenseth Extends Sprint Cup Series Lead

Matt Kenseth added to his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead on Sunday at Sonoma as former second-place driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. faltered.

Kenseth now leads Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle by 11 points, with Earnhardt Jr. 14 points out of the lead.

Defending champion Tony Stewart moved up three spots to fifth, while Denny Hamlin dropped three spots to eighth.

Here are the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after Sonoma (Note: All these numbers are in relation to the Chase):

  1. Matt Kenseth +117 inside Chase
  2. Greg Biffle +106
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. +103
  4. Jimmie Johnson +92
  5. Tony Stewart +54
  6. Kevin Harvick +53
  7. Clint Bowyer +50
  8. Denny Hamlin +44
  9. Martin Truex Jr. +41
  10. Brad Keselowski +11
  11. Carl Edwards -11 from Chase top 10
  12. Kyle Busch -31 (Holds Wild Card No. 1, one win)
  13. Ryan Newman -37 (Holds Wild Card No. 2, one win)
  14. Paul Menard -45
  15. Joey Logano -49 (-12 from Wild Card, one win)
  16. Marcos Ambrose -65
  17. Kasey Kahne -69 (-32 from Wild Card, one win)
  18. Jeff Gordon -76
  19. Jeff Burton -82
  20. Jamie McMurray -88
  21. Aric Almirola -102
  22. Juan Pablo Montoya -103
  23. AJ Allmendinger -125
Note: Drivers 24th and below in the standings have no realistic shot at making the Chase.

RELATED:

-- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series results from Sonoma

-- Joey Logano apologizes for wrecking teammates

-- Kurt Busch emotional after gutsy performance

-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 'We're better than this'

-- Disappointment for Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose

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NASCAR Sonoma Results 2012: Brian Vickers Shines In Spot Start

Just as he did at Bristol back in March, Brian Vickers returned Sunday after a lengthy absence and scored a top-five finish in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. This time, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver finished the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma in the fourth position and in doing so, overcame an earlier penalty for speeding on pit road.

"It was a great run for us; just really happy," Vickers said. "I haven't had many Cup races this year, but we've made the most of them."

Without a ride for the full season, Vickers has been running a limited schedule for MWR with Sunday's outing being just his third Cup race of the year. Remarkably, Vickers has now finished in the top five in two of the three races he's competed in – something which you would think would surely catch the eye of a prospective team owner.

"I hope so," Vickers said when asked if he was auditioning for a full-time ride. "If two top-fives doesn't do it, then I don't know what will."

Vickers' effort Sunday on the Sonoma road course was aided by the fact that he spent last weekend competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the most prestigious sports car race in the world.

"It was great to run Le Mans and then come here to road race," Vickers said. "I learned a lot about road racing. I kind of had to undo some of what I learned (at Le Mans) to get back in these cars. It took me a couple runs to get back to the heavy car with all the horsepower. Clearly, I was missing the pit limiter because I blew through pit road speeds."

RELATED:

-- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series results from Sonoma

-- Joey Logano apologizes for wrecking teammates

-- Kurt Busch emotional after gutsy performance

-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 'We're better than this'

-- Disappointment for Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose

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NASCAR Sonoma Results: Disappointing Finishes For Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose and Jeff Gordon started Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma in first and second, and in some order many expected the duo to finish that way.

However, for much of the afternoon neither was a factor. When the checkered flag flew, Gordon was sixth in the final rundown and Ambrose was eighth.

So what happened?

Gordon's bid for a sixth Sonoma win went by the wayside when he ran out of fuel just as he was passing pit road – typical of how his season has gone – and Ambrose's team simply missed it.

"We went about a half-lap too far there on that one run," Gordon said. "I think we made the car a little bit better, and just used a little bit more fuel in that second run, and ran out unfortunately. It never fails – you run out just as you pass pit entrance. We were lucky to get back to pit road and get it fueled up."

Ambrose's quest for victory wasn't undone because of a lack of fuel or poor strategy, but just a car that wasn't the best.

"We really missed it," Ambrose said. "I just feel bad for my Stanley team. We missed it bad and we did good to recover and get a top-10 out of it. We will take it and move on.

"We got the pole and had a lot of speed; we just missed it for the race. We were slow. It was just terrible. We had no speed in the car and we paid the price."

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. After NASCAR Sonoma Race: 'We're Better Than This'

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't surprised he was wrecked on the green-white-checkered restart in Sunday's NASCAR race at Sonoma. That sort of thing happens on a late restart at a road course, he said.

But what did surprise him? His No. 88 car wasn't very good throughout Sunday's race.

"I'm just mad because we didn't run better," he said. "We're better than this. I've run better here. We weren't good all weekend.

"I mean, I ain't the best road-course racer out there, but I can damn sure do better than that."

Earnhardt Jr. had a shot at a top-10 finish until he was run over behind on the GWC restart. He started 13th and had fresh tires to give him a chance at one of his best Sonoma finishes, but he finished 23rd instead and fell to third in points.

So who was the driver who hit Earnhardt Jr.? The Michigan race winner said it was Jeff Burton, but he said Burton was likely being pushed from behind by some others (and made it clear he thinks Burton is a clean racer).

"I just got hit in the back and spun around," he said. "I'm sure there's a bunch of people running into each other there to have made that happen. I don't think it was anything intentional; it was just the way green-white-checkers are here. We see it every year."

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NASCAR Sonoma Results: Kurt Busch Finishes Third After Gutsy Effort

With all the on- and off-track antics which has consumed Kurt Busch's 2012 season, it's easy to forget how much talent Busch really has. Yet in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma, the much-maligned driver sent a loud reminder he is one of the more talented wheelmen in all of NASCAR with a dazzling third-place finish.

"When you show up and you're on a third of the budget and you almost bring it to Victory Lane, you can't say that one guy does it out here," Busch said when he met with the media after the race. "It takes a full team effort. But I really want to deliver for my guys today, and being that close, and making one mistake, it's a tough game."

Running nose-to-tail with race-leader Clint Bowyer with less than 10 laps to go and having the faster car, it appeared that Busch would drive by Bowyer and go on to claim the unexpected victory.

But at some point toward the end of the race, Busch made contact with the tires on the inside of Sonoma's hairpin Turn 11. In past years, the tires had just been stacked there, unsecured. This year, though, they were bolted to the ground.

When Busch made contact with the tires, it damaged his car and eventually broke the panhard bar. His rear wheels would move a few inches in either direction, which made it amazing for Busch to even finish third.

It was exhausting and disappointing at the same time.

"You're that close you and want to deliver," Busch said.

There have never been questions about Busch's ability behind the wheel. Those concerns instead focus on whether he can properly channel his competitiveness when steps out of the race car. To that end, Busch knows he has a lot to prove.

"If I can get my head on straight here (in the media center) and after the race, then I'm able to race every weekend and go for victories," Busch said.

Busch's moxie though can be infectious and his competitive spirit is something his underfunded Phoenix Racing team has grown to admire – along with his immense talent.

"We're really, really happy and you couldn't ask him to drive a better race," Busch's crew chief Nick Harrison told SBNation.com. "We had a mechanical problem there at the end that happened. Stuff happens, but you hate it.

"We're pumped up and we're not let down. I know Kurt has mixed emotions, but he really does care about us and our team and I think you see that."

Busch not only showed how much he cares, he verbalized it as well.

"They bring the best out in me," Busch said of his Phoenix Racing team. "This is a no-nonsense group for a bunch of racers. The way this program feels is we are a bunch of Boy Scouts where we have to support each other and teach each other things and everybody has three jobs on this team.

"(Phoenix is) the closest family atmosphere I've ever had to racing with Kyle and my dad. We are not blood brothers or anything and cut fingers and touch and go 'Team Tiger Blood!' or anything, but it's really a neat group. Nick's leadership is just so much fun just to follow him and be a part of."

– Motorsports Editor Jeff Gluck in Sonoma contributed to this story.

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NASCAR Sonoma Results: Joey Logano Apologizes For Incidents

Joey Logano found himself on the defensive Sunday after several drivers were upset with him for rough racing at Sonoma.

Logano apologized to Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. after a pair of incidents in which Logano got into the corner too hot and lost control of his car.

"Hopefully they both understand," Logano said of the accident where he took out his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Turn 11. "It was my bad. I take 100 percent blame."

Comments from Busch (finished 17th) and Truex (22nd) did not appear on Toyota's post-race transcript, but Hamlin told SBNation.com he was willing to forgive his teammate despite being frustrated. Logano visited Hamlin's hauler for a chat after finishing 10th.

"He really overshot the corner and got into us," said Hamlin, who finished 35th. "Once you overshoot it, there's nothing you can do at that point. You either fence it yourself or run into the guy in front of you. We were just the person he was in front of.

"Once you drive that extra 50 feet in, there's nothing you can to do take it back. We were the bowling pins and he was the bowling ball."

In the JGR incident, Logano said he was trying to block AJ Allmendinger by using the inside line all the way into the corner. But that meant he needed some more room to make the turn, and his car started wheel-hopping because so much momentum was being carried as he tried to slow down.

"When you start wheel-hopping these things, it's really hard to get 'em back under control," Logano said. "You know, I was sideways trying to avoid Denny, hopefully missing him. But I just clipped him and sent him around. It's a bummer. You don't want to take anyone out, and you want to race clean and race hard."

Hamlin (who also had a part failure on his car) said it was easier to forgive a teammate because it's the "cardinal rule in racing" to not wreck cars from the same organization.

"You know when you're around your teammates, you typically try to not make mistakes," said Hamlin, who was catching eventual runnerup Tony Stewart before the spin. "When you're around your teammates, you try to be a little more cautious."

Logano also apologized for the incident with Truex, saying it was the exact same situation as when he accidentally spun his teammates.

Ryan Truex, who was caught up in the emotion of watching his brother get wrecked after a hard-fought day, tweeted: "Joey Logano you are a tool!!!!!!!"

He later deleted that tweet and instead said:

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NASCAR Sonoma Results 2012: Clint Bowyer Beats Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch

Clint Bowyer held off charging Tony Stewart to win Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the event two laps past its scheduled distance of 110 laps.

The victory was Bowyer's first of the year and the sixth of his career. Stewart passed Kurt Busch for the second position after the final restart and finished .829 seconds behind Bowyer's No. 15 Toyota. Busch held the third spot, followed by Brian Vickers and Jimmie Johnson.

Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano completed the top 10 in a race that began with a record green-flag run of 82 laps and featured a record-low two cautions.

Bowyer did a majestic job of driving in the closing laps to hold off Busch, who harried him lap after lap until Busch's tires gave up with 10 laps left. Bowyer pulled away to a lead of more than one second before Kyle Busch and Paul Menard spun in Turn 7 to cause the second caution.

Bowyer and Kurt Busch restarted on old tires at Lap 111, with Stewart taking the green flag on fresher rubber, having pitted under the first caution of the race with 27 laps left. Stewart was able to overtake Kurt Busch but couldn't catch Bowyer over the final two green-flag laps.

Here are the race results for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma:

  1. Clint Bowyer
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Kurt Busch
  4. Brian Vickers
  5. Jimmie Johnson
  6. Jeff Gordon
  7. Greg Biffle
  8. Marcos Ambrose
  9. AJ Allmendinger
  10. Joey Logano
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Brad Keselowski
  13. Matt Kenseth
  14. Kasey Kahne
  15. Casey Mears
  16. Kevin Harvick
  17. Kyle Busch
  18. Ryan Newman
  19. Jamie McMurray
  20. Paul Menard
  21. Carl Edwards
  22. Martin Truex Jr.
  23. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  24. Bobby Labonte
  25. Scott Speed
  26. David Gilliland
  27. David Ragan
  28. Aric Almirola
  29. Boris Said
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Landon Cassill
  32. Regan Smith
  33. JJ Yeley
  34. Juan Pablo Montoya
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Travis Kvapil
  37. Dave Blaney
  38. Tomy Drissi
  39. Robby Gordon
  40. David Mayhew
  41. Stephen Leicht
  42. Chris Cook
  43. Joe Nemechek
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NASCAR Sonoma 2012: Start Time, Starting Lineup, Live Streaming, TV/Radio Schedule And More

It's NASCAR race day at Sonoma, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about today's race for you below.

What time does the race start today? Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa will give the command to fire engines at 12:07 p.m. local time, which is 3:07 p.m. Eastern. After a couple pace laps, the race will take the green flag at 12:19 p.m. local (3:19 p.m. ET). So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race itself, turn on your TV sets at 3:19 p.m.

Race name/distance: The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is a 110-lap race around the 1.95-mile road course at Sonoma. The track is no longer called "Infineon Raceway" (the naming rights deal expired), so it's simply known as "Sonoma" for now. Anyway, the "350" is actually 350k – not miles. Drivers will complete a total of 218.9 miles around the 12-turn course.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on TNT. This is TNT's third of six broadcasts this summer before handing the reins to ESPN for the rest. There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Performance Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates from the event. ***

National anthem: The University of California's "Straw Hat Band" will play the national anthem before the race today. That's a subset of the marching band at Cal Berkeley, for those who aren't familiar.

Tickets: The race is not a sellout, so you should be good to go if you're planning to make a last-minute trip on race day.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather will be quite pleasant. Sunny skies with temperatures in the low 70s should prevail after a chilly weekend.

Last time: One year ago, Kurt Busch dominated for his first-ever road-course win and beat Jeff Gordon by nearly four seconds. Busch led a race-high 76 laps en route to the victory.

Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at Sonoma:

  1. Marcos Ambrose
  2. Jeff Gordon
  3. Jimmie Johnson
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Clint Bowyer
  7. Kyle Busch
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Matt Kenseth
  10. Carl Edwards
  11. Ryan Newman
  12. Juan Pablo Montoya
  13. Brad Keselowski
  14. Joey Logano
  15. Kasey Kahne
  16. Denny Hamlin
  17. AJ Allmendinger
  18. Bobby Labonte
  19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  20. Casey Mears
  21. Brian Vickers
  22. Scott Speed
  23. Paul Menard
  24. Tony Stewart
  25. Jamie McMurray
  26. Kevin Harvick
  27. David Gilliland
  28. Boris Said
  29. David Ragan
  30. Aric Almirola
  31. Regan Smith
  32. Dave Blaney
  33. David Mayhew
  34. Robby Gordon
  35. Jeff Burton
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Chris Cook
  38. JJ Yeley
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Josh Wise
  41. Tomy Drissi
  42. Landon Cassill
  43. Stephen Leicht
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NASCAR At Sonoma 2012: Why Road Course Ringers Don't Succeed

Perhaps more than any other track in NASCAR, the drivers themselves matter the most at Sonoma.

Curiously, though, the so-called "road course ringers" like Boris Said, Tomy Drissi and Chris Cook don't seem to make much of an impact during NASCAR's two annual road racing events.

For example: Despite all the hype, Said has never finished in the top five at Sonoma during 12 career starts. If he's a road-course ace, then what gives? Why can't someone like Said come in and dominate guys who typically run on ovals?

Drivers cited two main factors as the reason ringers don't succeed: The difficulty of the cars and the level of talent in the Sprint Cup Series.

"I think you would struggle to find another racing car that handles quite like these NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles," said Marcos Ambrose, a former road racer in Australia. "They are a beast to drive. Most road racers are used to a car driving them around the track pretty much. A stock car won't do that around here."

Kevin Harvick said the Cup cars are way different than the ones used in a series like Grand-Am, which come with sequential shifters and a ton of downforce. In NASCAR, the cars have more horsepower than grip, and drivers have to manhandle the cars all around the track.

"You can't race these cars once or twice a year and be competitive, because they are hard to drive," Harvick said. ... I think a lot of people that come in and have driven the cars will tell you that. I think the road race guys will tell you that."

Last year, the highest-finishing road racer at Sonoma was 26th-place Andy Pilgrim. At Watkins Glen, Said led the way with a 22nd-place result.

Road racers haven't fared well at Sonoma so far this weekend, either. Brian Simo replaced David Stremme in the No. 30 car, but failed to qualify for the race. Drissi wrecked Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 10 car during Saturday's final practice. And Said was only 33rd in Saturday morning practice.

Another reason road course ringers have a hard time succeeding is because drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have gotten a lot better at road racing over the last few years. By doing so, it reduced the need for ringers and also made a good result more difficult to achieve.

Jimmie Johnson noted the lack of opportunities for drivers like Scott Pruett and Ron Fellows and cited the "dramatically improved" talent in Cup as the reason.

"Those (ringers) were go-to for a long, long time," Johnson said. "They have some opportunities, but not the top-tier stuff any longer."

Ambrose said there's a perception that about only half the Cup field is capable of succeeding at a road course, but he called it "a fallacy." And Kasey Kahne said drivers like Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch have "really stepped up" on non-ovals.

"They just make it hard for any road course guy or anybody who wants to come in just to straight up beat them," Kahne said. "Those guys are good."

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NASCAR At Sonoma: Jeff Gordon Needs A Win This Weekend

When you take a look at the Sonoma record book, Jeff Gordon's name stands out more than any other. The four-time series champion is the track record-holder for wins, top-fives, top-10s, poles and laps led.

Yet, perhaps more than ever before, Gordon needs a victory on the 1.95-mile road course located in the wine country of Northern California.

Through a combination of bad luck, mistakes by driver and team alike and myriad other factors, Gordon finds himself winless and 21st in the series standings.

With the regular season hitting its stretch run – and little time for Gordon to claw his way back into the top 10 – winning is the only option Gordon has to make the Chase. It's a reality he is well aware of and why this weekend is such a pivotal one for the 24 team.

But if Gordon needs any inspiration – not to mention proof that Hendrick has speed in its fleet of cars – he doesn't have to look far. At Charlotte four weeks ago, his Hendrick stablemate Kasey Kahne was able to climb his way out of an early season hole to get a much-needed win. And, of course, there was Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to Victory Lane last weekend after a four-year hiatus.

Since Jimmie Johnson scored the organization's 200th victory at Darlington, Hendrick drivers have won four of the last five races (and five of the last six if you count the non-points All-Star Race).

However, the success his teammates have had this season also adds to the frustration Gordon has frequently experienced.

"I feel like it has really been a test for us," Gordon said Friday. "It has not been easy. When you have high expectations on yourself and your teammates are winning and doing well and when you're running so good, it makes it even more frustrating. I've been saying this, how hard it is to run good and we've got that part down really good, we're running good."

Now, back in the state where he was born and on a track where he has experienced great success, Gordon would like nothing more than to win his sixth career race on the 12-turn natural terrain road course.

"It would be great," said Gordon, the only driver to have won consecutive races at Sonoma. "The competition has gotten better. Guys have done their homework and got their cars better and guys like Juan Pablo (Montoya) and (AJ) Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, these are just guys that have road racing backgrounds and they really have stepped up the game now that they're in solid teams.

"(It) takes a lot to win here. When I hear them say we won here five times, it always blows me away because when you haven't won in awhile, it just seems like it's so hard. It is. But when you do it all right and things go your way, it actually feels pretty easy."

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NASCAR At Sonoma: Juan Pablo Montoya Dishes On Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

When Juan Pablo Montoya came to NASCAR from Formula One, he had a three-year plan to succeed in the Sprint Cup Series.

In the third year, Montoya made the Chase. The following season, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing won four races.

Things appeared to be headed in the right direction for the organization entering last year. And then...total failure.

"Everybody felt that we had such good cars, we just dropped the ball completely," Montoya said. "...Last year was frustrating because it was more about arguing than getting things done. I think personally think that was the problem. It was who got more power, who could pull more, it was frustrating as hell."

The malaise was cured by the rampant personnel changes which took place over the offseason, including the departures of Tony Glover and Steve Hmiel, two mainstays of EGR. And although the results haven't necessarily been there thus far for Montoya and new crew chief Chris Heroy – the No. 42 team has finished in the top 10 just twice and has six finishes outside the top 20 – or McMurray, there is reason to think better days are ahead.

"I think once we changed everybody on the team, like right now it's nice to be here," Montoya said. "It's really fun to be here.

"We've just got to put it all together and we're getting there. Last week we ran really good; the week before we ran good as well. It's hard because you want to make a big jump. I think we put in key people in the right places and things are happening."

Adding to the frustration was the continued prosperity experienced by the Ganassi-owned cars in the IndyCar Series, which have won the last four series crowns and two of the last three Indy 500s.

"We joked around at Texas right when Scott (Dixon) took the lead and Dario (Franchitti) had to pit because he couldn't drive his car," McMurray said. "I was like, ‘That's that weekends we have. You'll see one guy really good and one guy really bad.' It's hard. But, the IndyCar side has been so good they haven't fought those same issues. But it seems like they have got that turned around now and are back where they are.

"I don't think we are jealous, we're happy for those guys."

Ultimately, as McMurray explained Friday, overcoming adversity makes the payoff all the more rewarding.

"Part of what makes it so great when you win is the struggles that you fight getting there," McMurray said. "It's frustrating because you want to win but at the same time last year was much more frustrating because I felt like we were going in circles. We knew what we needed to work on, work on it and then realize that wasn't it. We would kind of end up 180 from where we needed to be.

"The cars are getting better each week, and like I said I feel like in the last six weeks one of our cars has been really fast. You don't go from running 15th to winning just overnight. It takes baby steps. But, I feel like we're heading in the right direction."

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NASCAR Sonoma Starting Lineup 2012: Marcos Ambrose Wins Pole Position

Marcos Ambrose has made it two in a row.

One week after posting a record 203 mph lap around Michigan, Ambrose was one of only two drivers to top 95 mph at Sonoma and won the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at the Northern California road course.

Ambrose said Friday's lap at Sonoma was "more intense" than his record-breaking lap last week.

"I don't know if I got it all, but I got a lot of it," Ambrose said.

Amazingly, Ambrose had never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole through his first 133 career races, but has now won two in a row.

After Ambrose, it was Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer rounding out the top five.

Gordon said he was pleased to be so close to Ambrose, since the latter driver has been a monster on road courses lately.

"Best lap I've had here in a number of years," said Gordon, who was the last to go out for qualifying and nearly caught Ambrose.

Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman completed the top 10. Last week's winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will start 19th.

Only one car failed to qualify for the race. Brian Simo, who was driving the car typically raced by David Stremme, missed the race.

Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma:

  1. Marcos Ambrose
  2. Jeff Gordon
  3. Jimmie Johnson
  4. Greg Biffle
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Clint Bowyer
  7. Kyle Busch
  8. Kurt Busch
  9. Matt Kenseth
  10. Carl Edwards
  11. Ryan Newman
  12. Juan Pablo Montoya
  13. Brad Keselowski
  14. Joey Logano
  15. Kasey Kahne
  16. Denny Hamlin
  17. AJ Allmendinger
  18. Bobby Labonte
  19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  20. Casey Mears
  21. Brian Vickers
  22. Scott Speed
  23. Paul Menard
  24. Tony Stewart
  25. Jamie McMurray
  26. Kevin Harvick
  27. David Gilliland
  28. Boris Said
  29. David Ragan
  30. Aric Almirola
  31. Regan Smith
  32. Dave Blaney
  33. David Mayhew
  34. Robby Gordon
  35. Jeff Burton
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. Chris Cook
  38. JJ Yeley
  39. Travis Kvapil
  40. Josh Wise
  41. Tomy Drissi
  42. Landon Cassill
  43. Stephen Leicht
DNQ: Brian Simo
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NASCAR At Sonoma 2012: Tony Stewart Explains Blocking

When you hear about "blocking" at a road course, you might think of Tony Stewart.

Not because Stewart blocks, but because he freaking hates it when other people do – and he's likely to take action if it happens (remember Brian Vickers here last year?).

"When I started 14 years ago, they didn't do that here," he said Friday at Sonoma, where blocking will be a hot topic again on Sunday. "Seems like every year, the blocking aspect of it gets worse and worse."

OK, but what exactly does "blocking" entail at a road course? To the untrained eye, it seems like cars are blocking in every single corner, right?

Not so, Stewart said.

"When somebody runs a different line than what they would run by themselves to keep somebody from passing them, that's blocking," he said. "That's easy for everybody to see."

Stewart said everybody stays on the outside of the track until they get to the corner. At that point, they dive down to the inside to get into the turn.

"So if a guy changes lanes halfway down the straightaway, he's not doing it because it's a faster line to get him into the corner," Stewart said. "He's doing it because he's blocking."

And if Stewart thinks a driver is blocking? That person is probably going for a ride.

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NASCAR Sonoma Qualifying Will Be Tape-Delayed On SPEED

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Sonoma will be shown on a tape delay tonight (at 11 p.m. Eastern, SPEED) because the Barrett-Jackson car auction is taking place during the actual qualifying time (6:40 p.m. Eastern).

This will undoubtedly expose me for not being a "car guy," but I don't get it. People seem to love the Barrett-Jackson shows and go nuts over seeing various old vehicles get fought over by a bunch of rich car collectors.

SPEED preempted its coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to show a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series bonus practice from Michigan, but Cup qualifying gets bumped for an auction?

What am I missing? There must be something I just don't understand about car auctions. Do people like the cool cars or the dramatic aspect of the bidding wars or what? Somebody please let me in on the secret.

Maybe if I was a "car guy," I'd totally get the need to show Barrett-Jackson live instead of Sonoma qualifying. Clearly, though, I'm not.

RELATED: Here's a link to SPEED's TV schedule.

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At Sonoma, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Talks About Week After Michigan Win

As you might expect, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wondered what the response from his family, friends and fans would be once he snapped his NASCAR victory drought. But as he re-discovered last week after winning at Michigan, "the real reaction is always bigger than what you imagined."

Earnhardt Jr. rattled off several feel-good moments about the days following his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory in four years when he met with reporters on Friday at Sonoma.

Among them: Stories from friends, a tweet from a celebrity and recognition from his peers.

L.W. Miller, who is married to Earnhardt Jr.'s sister Kelley, told the driver about a friend's father who had taken ill. The man was suffering from some sort of dementia and couldn't even recognize his own sons earlier this week – but he was aware of the No. 88's win at Michigan.

"All he was talking about was the race and us winning," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That really kind of brings it home and makes you realize how something like that affects a lot of people you know and makes a big difference in a lot of people's lives. Pretty amazing to hear a story like that."

Earnhardt Jr. was also flattered that musician Charlie Daniels took the time to tweet about the victory (even though the driver himself still won't tweet).

"You don't ever take it for granted that people are tuned in that much," Earnhardt Jr. said. "For him to say something about it and mention it on his social media accounts meant a lot to me."

Earnhardt Jr. was still happy about receiving a visit from drivers like Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in Victory Lane. He said giving congratulations to rival drivers is something he's done regularly, but he realized how much it actually meant when the roles were reversed.

"There were all kinds of cool stuff like that happening all week long," he said. "It made it pretty special."

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NASCAR At Sonoma 2012: Weather Forecast And Weekend Schedule

When it comes to NASCAR at Sonoma, rain is one thing you don't think about – and we won't have to think much about it this weekend. The only exception is a small chance of a sprinkle or light shower today.

I've been tracking a coastal storm system that will keep some morning fog, drizzle and dreary cloud cover overhead for a good portion of the day. Although slim, there's a chance of a few rain drops in the form of sprinkles. It may look dark and threatening, but I expect qualifying to go off later in the afternoon.

The rest of the weekend is very nice with lots of sunshine. Temperatures will also be comfortably cool as they reach the low 70s during the afternoon. After some of the rain and storms NASCAR has had to deal with the last few weeks, it's nice to finally have a break.

Please follow me on Twitter @NASCAR_WXMAN and like me on Facebook for the latest weather updates through the weekend.

Conditions in Sonoma, CA: Click here for Current Weather ConditionsLook at Doppler Radar | Mobile Friendly Site | Mobile Radar

FRIDAY:
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup practice – Mostly cloudy, breezy, chc. of a sprinkle – temp: 65
6:40 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup qualifying – Mostly cloudy, breezy – temp: 68

SATURDAY:
12:30 p.m. EDT
Nationwide Series qualifying – Mostly sunny skies – temp: 58
1:45 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series qualifying – Mostly sunny skies, breezy – temp: 66

SUNDAY:
2 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Pre-race – Mostly sunny – temp: 63
3 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly sunny – temp: 67
4 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly sunny – temp: 68
6 p.m. EDT
Sprint Cup Series Race – Mostly sunny – temp: 70

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NASCAR At Sonoma: Sprint Cup Series Hits The Road

Marcos Ambrose returns to Sonoma as the favorite after last year's Watkins Glen win.

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