This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series moves to California wine country and Infineon Raceway.

While it's a long way from the hub of the sport in Charlotte, N.C., it's not just the geography that makes Infineon a unique venue. The word "Shepherd" to most NASCAR fans brings to mind the driver, Morgan Shepherd, who drives a "Racing for Jesus" car for Faith Motor-
sports. But at Infineon Raceway, there are two shepherds, neither of which is named Morgan.


Silly as it seems, nearly 3,000 sheep help maintain the grasses and fire lanes around the facility. What's more, the sheep live at the track full-time, tended by said shepherds.

And because it's California, there will be celebrities and wine tastings, things that many old-school NASCAR fans could just as soon do without. Infineon Raceway is also a road course, the merits of which are debatable among race fans.

One driver who shoulders a lot of the blame for "the new NASCAR" is Jeff Gordon, a Califor-
nia-born four-time Sprint Cup champ. A few years ago, Gordon launched his own line of fine wines, made from California grapes, of course. Gordon remains king of the road courses with nine wins, five at Infineon Raceway. But he'll face a hard challenge from points leader Tony Stewart, who has won twice at the California track. It's Stewart's first try at a road course as driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing, but expect him to be good right off of the truck.
According to Manchester native Troy Welty, who is the "underneath guy" on the No.


14 team and eighth man on the pit crew, the team had a successful road-course test two weeks ago at Virginia International Raceway.

"We're just trying to get a hold on our road-race package and see how we're going to be," Welty said. "Obviously, things have been going well in the circle stuff, but you never know where you're going to be on your road courses. Tony was happy and (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) was real pleased, too."

Scott Speed and A.J. Allmendinger are also California natives with lots of road-course experience. Both started in open-wheel racing and cut their motorsports teeth on road-course-style racing.

Then there are the road course specialists, also known as "ringers," who make their appearances only for these events. Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Brian Simo and Tom Hubert are set to try to qualify. Also watch for Max Papis and Patrick Carpentier to have strong runs at Infineon.

Despite the hoopla surrounding road-course aces racing at road courses, they have won only rarely. The last time a ringer went to victory lane in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was 1973, when Mark Donohue won at Riverside International Raceway.

My pick? Look for Jeff Gordon to do the hat dance Sunday.

Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for The York Dispatch. She can be reached at