NASCAR has been running on the Sonoma Raceway road course every year since 1989 and every year, it seems, some team brings in a road-racing specialist to try and score an upset victory at the 1.99-mile track.
So-called “road-course ringers” — road racers who aren’t full-time NASCAR drivers — have been trying since the beginning to win at Sonoma, but so far they haven’t.
Here are the 10 best road-course ringers who’ve raced successfully at Sonoma since that first race in ’89.
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Hershel McGriff, 14th-place
The inaugural NASCAR Premier Series race was the 1989 Banquet Frozen Foods 300, which was won by Ricky Rudd in a Kenny Bernstein-owned Buick. But McGriff, who was 61 years old at the time, finished 14th in a U.S. Bank-sponsored Pontiac that he owned.
Ernie Irvan wheeled the bright yellow Morgan-McClure Chevrolet to victory in the 1992 Save Mart 300k ahead of future NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Terry Labonte and Mark Martin. In that race, Kendall drove the No. 52 Pontiac owned by long-time independent racer Jimmy “Smut” Means.
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A native of Redding, Calif., Schmitt only ran 44 Cup races over 19 years. In the 1991 Banquet Frozen Foods 300, which Davey Allison won, Schmitt piloted the No. 73 Raley’s/Bank Cal Ford to a top-15 finish.
A native of Roskilde, Denmark, Magnussen made his name racing sports cars. His only NASCAR Premier Series start came in the 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, where he drove for James Finch and Phoenix Racing. Jimmie Johnson won that race.
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Patrick Carpentier, 11th
Driving a Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge, Kasey Kahne won the 2009 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. But Carpentier, an open-wheel racer from Canada, had a pretty decent day himself behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
For his career, Hoerr competed in only seven Premier Series races. In 1990, he drove Richard Jackson’s Oldsmobiles to top-1o finishes at NASCAR’s two road courses. Hoerr finished eighth in the Banquet Frozen Foods 300 at Sonoma, where Rusty Wallace won, and 10th at Watkins Glen International (where he’s pictured above celebrating a Grand-Am victory).
One of the best road-course ringers of all-time, Fellows won four NASCAR XFINITY Series races and two more in the Camping World Truck Series. His best result in NASCAR’s top division came in the 2005 Dodge/Save Mart 350, when he drove for Cal Wells in the Tide-sponsored No. 32 Chevrolet. Tony Stewart won at Sonoma on that day.
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The Brillo-headed one taught many of NASCAR’s top drivers how to road race and he’s had several great runs on the road courses. The best came in the 2003 Dodge/Save Mart 350, when he drove the MB2 Motorsports No. 01 Pontiac with U.S. Army sponsorship. Robby Gordon won that race.
In the 2004 Dodge/Save Mart 350, car owner Chip Ganassi fielded a fourth Dodge for Pruett to go with the ones campaigned by Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray and Sterling Marlin. Pruett responded with a stellar run, finishing behind only race-winner Jeff Gordon and McMurray. It was the only Premier Series race Pruett ran that year.
This one takes a little explaining. Gordon began the 2001 season with Morgan-McClure, but parted ways with the team after five races.
He didn’t race again until Sonoma, which was race No. 16 on the schedule. In the 2001 Dodge/Save Mart 350, Gordon hooked up with car owner Jim Smith to drive the No. 7 NationsRent Ford, which he finished second in at Sonoma behind Tony Stewart.
Gordon would drive that car only once more before moving to Richard Childress Racing full-time. Gordon would win at Sonoma in 2003, but by then he was a full-time NASCAR racer; when he finished second in 2001, he was a road-course ringer.
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