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NASCAR notebook: No recent wins for 'ringers'


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.

"The cool conditions are going to be good for us," said Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Stanley Ford), who will race from the pole position. "It is going to present some more grip. This track is notorious for its low grip level."

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Chevy) agreed with the diagnosis but didn't sound as thrilled. "To me, it makes it a better race the hotter it is here. ... I think that creates the toughest race conditions and you can get some passing through the field, and you don't have to rely strictly on (pit) strategy."

PLEASE WAVE THE FLAG

NASCAR will honor representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard Petaluma Training Center before Sunday's race. As part of the NASCAR Unites program, the organization invites active-duty soldiers, wounded warriors, veterans and military families to races throughout the year.

Chief Warrant Officer James Feeley, Chief Petty Officer Sean Moriarty, Petty Officer Steven Williams and Future Surface Combatant Michael A. Field will be among the honored Coast Guardsmen.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN KEVIN HARVICK IS EXPECTING

Most of the NASCAR drivers will have some butterflies in their guts when lined up to start this year's 350. Harvick might have pterodactyls.

Harvick and his wife, DeLana, are expecting their first baby in July.

"The biggest thing we don't want to happen is we don't want her to go into labor while I'm in California," said Harvick, who grew up in Bakersfield but now lives in North Carolina. "That's the biggest hurdle that we have to overcome for the weekend from a personal side of it."

Harvick's contingency plan includes an airplane and a backup driver. His driver of choice, however, is David Mayhew, who is scheduled to pilot his own ride — the No. 98 Parsons Racing Ford. "If we have an issue, we will address it when we get to that point with him," Harvick said.

PRELIMINARY BOUT

David Gilliland, who will also drive in the Sprint Cup race, won the Pick-N-Pull/Racing to Stop Hunger 200 on Saturday. Gilliland's father, Butch, was a four-time winner at Sonoma; he was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame on Thursday and flew in from Dubai to see his son's victory.

David Gilliland led the final 21 laps of the K&N Pro Series race and finished in 1 hour, 50 minutes, 50 seconds — 1.2 seconds ahead of second-place Derek Thorn of Lakeport.Greg Pursley finished third.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE

Jeff Gordon, whose No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy has been among the most formidable cars all weekend, had the fastest practice lap again Saturday, with an average speed of 94.312 miles per hour. Ambrose was next at 93.381 mph, followed by AJ Allmendinger (93.342) and Juan Pablo Montoya (93.287).