Will it happen this year?
Each season, when Nextel Cup visits road courses, specialists at that discipline are sprinkled throughout the starting lineup. That'll be true again Sunday in the Dodge 350 at Infineon Raceway, where on Friday Jeff Gordon, the circuit's established road-course ace, won the pole at 94.325 mph.
Robby Gordon, a driver with extensive road-course experience who qualified fifth fastest in the No. 7 Chevrolet he owns, swept the races here and at Watkins Glen while driving full-time for Richard Childress Racing in 2003. But no road-course "ringer" has broken through to win a Cup event here or at the Glen.
Scott Pruett finished third at Infineon last year and Boris Said finished sixth here the past two years. Ron Fellows has three road-course wins in the Busch Series and two in the Truck Series and has two second-place Cup runs at Watkins Glen.
All three are here this weekend to push the NASCAR regulars and try to get a breakthrough stock-car victory to add to their career resumes.
Said qualified fourth best, behind Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin. Pruett will start ninth. Fellows barely made the field, qualifying 43rd.
Gordon is the all-time Cup leader with eight road-course wins in his career. But as well as he has done at this type of racing -- a winning percentage of .333 in 24 starts -- he's got nothing on Fellows and Said when it comes to road courses.
Last weekend, Fellows was part of a two-car Chevrolet Corvette effort that finished fifth and sixth overall and first and second in their class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Earlier this year, Said became the first American to be on a winning team in a 24-hour race at Germany's famed Nuburgring course, which runs over 15 miles per lap.
Both have won championships and major races throughout their road-racing careers. So why don't they simply mop the asphalt when they go up against drivers who are used to making nothing but left turns on ovals?
"When I first had some success at the Cup level in 1998 [at Watkins Glen], we qualified on the front row and hadn't tested," said Fellows, who's driving the No. 32 Chevrolet in place of Bobby Hamilton Jr. this weekend. "In 1999, we finished a close second with a part-time team. That's just not going to happen anymore. The top guys don't take off any races. In the past, they didn't even build road-race cars. Now they build multiple road race cars, and test and prepare them very well."
Said is trying to become more than a road-course pinch hitter. He's raced at Daytona, Texas and Talladega with the No. 36 team he'll run with here this weekend, part of a 13-race schedule for MBSutton Motorsports.
Said wants to be a full-time NASCAR driver, but knows that this is one of the two races this year where he at least won't be starting out at a disadvantage in experience.
"All of these guys who race these cars week in and week out, for them it's like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes," Said said. On ovals "I don't have the experience yet to know if the car needs to be better or if I need to drive different. When we get on a road course, I have a good feeling on how much the car can do and what the limits are. I have a good feeling and know what to change to make the car better."