SONOMA — They are known as “ringers,” and they have a certain mystique in NASCAR. They are the road-course specialists who are virtually unknown on the superspeedway ovals, but who usually manage to land rides for the twists and turns of Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Guys like Tommy Kendall and Boris Said, with maneuvering skills honed on the nation’s road courses, used to strike a little fear into the hearts of the regular Sprint Cup drivers. The problem is, they haven’t done a whole lot lately.
A ringer hasn’t won a road race since Mark Donahue took the checkered flag at Riverside in 1973. They have managed a lot of top-10s since then, but not many in the past four years. That includes Said, who was 28th at Sonoma and 22nd at Watkins Glen last year.
“You can’t race these cars once or twice a year and be competitive, because they are hard to drive,” Kevin Harvick, pilot of the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, said. “In order to get the speed out of them — they are not like a Grand-Am car or something with a lot of downforce, or something with sequential shifters. These cars are just hard to drive. ... I think the road-race guys will tell you that.”
Said is back for another run this year. The only other true ringer in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 is Tomy Drissi. A third, Brian Simo, failed to qualify Friday.
A COOL PLACE TO RACE
June can be unpredictable in the hills of Carneros. Temperatures frequently climb into the 80s, and occasionally the 90s, making life uncomfortable for drivers and Goodyear tires alike at the raceway.
That is not the case this weekend. Scudding clouds and cool breezes kept temperatures below 70 for most of Friday and Saturday, and the forecast for race day calls for mild mid-70s.
It’s a nice surprise for the drivers, and should make the track less slippery. Whether that’s a good thing or not is open to debate.