France has NASCAR roaring

Two of Northern California’s biggest motorsports events are on the horizon, with NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series roaring into the Sonoma Valley’s Infineon Raceway June 22-24 and the third annual Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix thundering into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca July 20-22.

The NASCAR nation will no doubt be continuing to mourn the loss of Bill France Jr., who built the multi-billion dollar behemoth it has become, but don’t figure on the most popular form of racing on the planet to miss a beat. In 2003, Bill passed on control of the company to his son, Brian.

Under Bill Jr.’s direction, the family’s International Speedway Corporation owns a big chunk of the tracks at which Nextel Cup races. Most of the rest of the tracks are under the control of Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc., including Infineon Raceway. Between them, the two entities own all but a few of the Cup venues.

Nextel Cup is No. 2 behind only the NFL in terms of popularity by the sports-viewing public and regularly fills large venues. All but two events are on ovals — Infineon Raceway and the historic Watkins Glen International are the only road courses on the schedule.

RUDD TO BE HONORED: Ricky Rudd, a two-time winner at Infineon, will be inducted into the raceway’s Wall of Fame during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend, along with Save Mart Supermarkets chairman and CEO Bob Piccinni.

Rudd, considered one of the best road-course drivers in NASCAR history, is a two-time winner at Infineon Raceway and he has also sat on the pole four times. He won the inaugural race at then-Sears Point Raceway in 1989, edging Rusty Wallace by a scant five-hundredths of a second, which is still a track record for closest finish.

Tickets and information may be obtained by calling (800) 870-7223 or logging on to www.infineonraceway.com or www.ticketmaster.com.

BALLET ON TWO WHEELS: The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix has the distinction of being the only event to have “Sold Out” next to it on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Web site.

The MotoGP riders put on a show that perhaps could only be likened to a ballet on two wheels. American Nicky Hayden has won both times the series has made its only North American stop at the “dry lake.” Tickets and information may be obtained by calling (800) 327-7232 or logging on to www.laguna-seca.com.

PATRICK GETTING TOUGH?

Danica Patrick is showing on the track she’s far more than just another pretty face. At the Milwaukee Mile, she had run-ins with Dan Wheldon both on the track and off. “There’s just a little bit of bravery that maybe I lacked a little in the beginning years,” Patrick said. “It’s just having the confidence that you’re going to go into the corner and make it out and beat them.”

THIS WEEK’S PIT STOPS

NEXTEL CUP

WHAT: Pocono 500

WHERE: Long Pond, Pa.

WHEN: Sunday, 11 a.m.

BUSCH

WHAT: Federated Auto Parts 300

WHERE: Lebanon, Tenn.

WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m.

NHRA

WHAT: Route 66 Nationals

WHERE: Joliet, Ill.

WHEN: Sunday, 9 a.m.

IRL

WHAT: Bombardier Learjet 550

WHERE: Ft. Worth, Texas

WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.

CHAMP CAR

WHAT: Mazda GP of Portland

WHERE: Portland, Ore.

WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.

FORMULA ONE

WHAT: Canadian Grand Prix

WHERE: Montreal

WHEN: Sunday, 10 a.m.


Who do you think is the best road-course driver in NASCAR history?

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