Racing fans flocked to the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma on June 23 for a glimpse of the 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, but Oakdale’s Robert and Ryan Raduechel were anything but spectators.
The racing brothers exploded onto the road course with first (Robert) and second (Ryan) place finishes in the exciting Legends ‘Thunder class’ division.
The Raduechel brothers qualified top two and turned in the two quickest in-race lap times while clinching their one-two finish. Robert had the easier go of it, as he quickly developed a lead on the other competitors after the green flag waved. Ryan also ran a good race, but had a little bumping problem with another competitor during the race as the two battled for position. When the bumping was done, Ryan held onto his second place position when the checkered flag waved, allowing the Oakdale brothers to celebrate together in the winner’s circle.
Ryan still lives in Oakdale, while Robert moved to Modesto, following his graduation from Oakdale High in 2006. The Legends racing series “Thunder cars” take the brothers to tracks around Northern California, including regular visits to Sonoma. Robert and Ryan are following a family tradition, as their father also raced in the series. Robert started out racing Go-Karts at a young age, moving up to the Legend series at around 15 years of age.
In the K & N Pro West Series event, Eric Holmes of Escalon qualified third and was one of the favorites to win the race. He led 13 laps before his engine gave out, dropping him out of the race with about 20 laps remaining. He ended up finishing 22nd.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 was one of the closest and most exciting in recent history at the famous Sonoma road course. While there were only two caution flags, there were eight lead changes amongst five drivers. Marcos Ambrose started on the pole and led the first 10 laps. Jeff Gordon of Vallejo qualified second and took over the lead on lap 12. The next seven lead changes came about primarily due to pit strategies. Each team attempted to strategize the best way to save fuel and tires and gain track position. Some teams utilized a two stop strategy, while others used a more conservative three stop strategy. Because of the limited number of caution flags and laps (two cautions for a total of seven laps), many teams found themselves on the edge of not having enough fuel to finish the race. Gordon looked to have the dominant car early on, but had to give up the lead as his tires started to go away. Clint Bowyer, driving on a new team under the Michael Waltrip Racing banner, took over the lead on lap 25 and held it for nine laps, until his tires started losing grip. He then backed off, relinquishing the lead to the hard-charging Kurt Busch, who was the defending event champion from 2011. When Busch pitted for fuel and tires, Martin Truex Jr. (also part of the Michael Waltrip Racing Team) took the lead for 15 laps. Following a pit stop for fresh tires and fuel, Bowyer battled his way back into the lead on lap 48 and held onto it until lap 70, when he returned to the pits for fuel and more fresh tires. His crew chief, Brian Pattie decided on a two pit stop strategy, so he had to coach his driver to the finish, ensuring he saved both fuel mileage and tires. As Bowyer entered the pits, Busch took over the lead, but only for a lap, until he too pitted for fuel and tires. Truex regained the lead for two laps, then he entered the pits for fuel and fresh tires. Bowyer grabbed the lead again, with no more scheduled pit stops. That required him to drive the car hard enough to retain the lead, but soft enough to conserve his tires and fuel. On lap 83, Bowyer got a little help when the first caution flag of the race was thrown when a car slid out of control into the tire barricade in turn No. 9. This yellow flag resulted in four caution laps, allowing Bowyer to save both tires and fuel. When the green flag waved for the restart, he was able to fight off Busch and maintain the lead, with five-time Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson, three-time Sprint Cup series champions Tony Stewart and Gordon in hot pursuit. Bowyer battled Busch bumper to bumper for about 15 laps, until he was finally able to extend his lead to a comfortable margin. At this point, Busch’s tires were now worn and losing grip, as were those of Bowyer, but with his lead extended what he definitely did not want was a caution flag. It looked as though he was on his way to a relatively easy victory. Then, with only four laps to go, as the drivers became more aggressive battling for position, Busch and Paul Menard spun in turn seven. Both drivers had badly worn tires that were seriously lacking traction. That brought out the second and final caution flag of the race, which eliminated Bowyer’s safety margin between himself and Busch and provided the near capacity crowd an exciting ‘green-white-checker’ finish. This did nothing short of make Bowyer nervous, as he and Busch, along with the other drivers in the top eight, were the only teams to not go into the pits on this caution, for fresh tires and a splash of fuel, in an effort to keep their all-important track positions. Unfortunately for Bowyer; Stewart, Gordon and Johnson had fresher tires from an earlier pit stop. When the green flag dropped for the restart with three laps to go, Bowyer held off Busch going up the hill into turn two. The two bumped each other as they came out of turn two, but Bowyer held onto the lead. Johnson, Gordon and Stewart had a difficult time getting past Busch, allowing Bowyer to put some distance between himself and the pack.
On the last lap, Stewart was able to get around Busch, but didn’t have enough race laps left to catch Bowyer. When the checkered flag fell, it was Bowyer followed by Stewart, Busch, Brian Vickers and Johnson. And how close were they on fuel mileage? Bowyer was able to perform one quick victory tire-smoking donut for the fans. Then his car ran out of gas and had to be pushed to the winner’s circle. One more lap and he would not have made it to the finish line. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
Oakdale Leader correspondents Mike and Jeff Burghardt contributed this report.