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Boris Said: once a power to be reckoned with on NASCAR road courses. Is he still?

Boris Said: once a power to be reckoned with on NASCAR road courses. Is he still?

Once fearsome, passionate Boris Said: what can he do this weekend at Sonoma? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



  By Mike Mulhern

  SONOMA, Calif.
  The best pure road racer in NASCAR?
   No fear....Boris Said is here.
   Said, the 6-4 racer with that wild head of hair and an irrepressible curiosity about road racing that has taken him around the world, has won more road races around the world than most of these guys have even raced in.   
   And Said is back here this weekend to try once again to make his mark in stock car racing.
   You could call him one of those road course 'ringers,' guys who show up every now and then, with good credentials and talent but not much time in this branch of the sport. But that doesn't really tell the real story about Boris Said.

   Said has been tinkering with NASCAR for several years now, once hoping to break into the Sprint Cup series as a full-time regular. And some of his work has been admirable. This will be his 14th year on NASCAR's road courses.
   His best Cup finishes were third at Watkins Glen in 2005, and fourth at Daytona in the summer of 2006 (after qualifying on the pole). His NASCAR highlight was winning the Nationwide race at Montreal in 2010.
  Along the way of course he's taken his lumps. More than once, angry drivers have stormed over to his car after the race to confront him.


 Boris Said battling Jeff Burton at Sonoma a few years back....in a battle that got pretty darned heated...after the race. But then Said inspires emotions....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   But what makes Said so entertaining is -- no, not the Said Heads, that bunch of groupies that follow him, like DeadHeads used to follow Jerry Garcia's guys -- that he's just, well, so darned entertaining. Even off the track.
   What to expect here this weekend? It could be interesting to see just what owner/crew chief Frankie Stoddard has for Said.
   Expectations are modest, given the finances involved. A top-15 would be just fine, Said says.
   That's a far cry from the way things used to be, when Said would arrive here fired up to win.
   However now he's nearing 50, and it's hard to tell just how much fire there still in the belly, how much he has to temper what he'd like to do at the wheel here with what his team can afford for him to do.
   Once upon a time a really great road racer could make up for weak equipment on this tour. No longer. Top teams have cars with the best technology money can buy. Formula One has nothing on these guys.
   So Said has to temper his fire.

  The Said Heads out in force (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Said this year has been running the Rolex Series, the Continental Challenge for BMW, Corvettes in GT...."And now to get to drive with Hendrick.com on the side of my cars is pretty exciting," he says.
   Hendrick.com of course is a Rick Hendrick enterprise....while Stoddard fields Fords.
   Said's goals here? Once, not so long ago, that was to win....and he came close a couple of times.
   But NASCAR is still an old boys' club, and newcomers play at their peril.
   "Hopefully I can do a good job, and not get in any trouble with the regulars, and just have a good weekend," Said says.
   Trouble is, as Kevin Harvick points out, Sonoma Raceway has become the meanest, roughest track in the sport the past two or so years. Those double-file restarts, on the tight, twisting layout, make for bruised feelings....and typically payback.
   Marcos Ambrose says this is the perfect track for payback, for any of those indiscretions accumulated so far this season.
   Nobody here really expects to be able to stay out of trouble in Sunday's 350.
   "Those double-file starts are the single biggest thing they've done to spice up the show," Said says.
   "At Watkins Glen they're not so bad; but here, for some reason.....
    "You can go two-by-two for a long time, and if you try to be easy, you'll just get run over. So you've got to be aggressive, and hope for the best, and hope you don't get turned around, and hope nobody wheel-hops into you, or tries for that three-wide pass...
   "But really I think some of it is just luck."


   Said, victorious in Montreal two years ago (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Hanging over most everyone here is the approach Tony Stewart took here last summer -- after one too many blocks by Brian Vickers, Stewart simply spun him out. Of course it's almost impossible here to get away from anyone, and when Vickers finally caught him, at the end off the high-speed esses, he simply bumped Stewart up on top of the wall and out of contention.
   Stewart, though, made his point. And that he came back from that poor points day to win the championship would seem to show rivals that this place is not a graveyard for title hopes, perhaps giving them impetus to get even wilder.
   "If I saw Tony Stewart coming up in my rear view mirror, I would let him go, personally," Said says. "But now at the end of the race, five laps to go, man, it's your job. Frank isn't paying to pull over and let anyone by.
  "So then stuff can happen.
   "But I think it's silly before the end of the race."
  Ambrose is one of the most aggressive guys on the tour on a road course. "But I don't think any of these guys aren't aggressive," Said says with a laugh. "I remember the first time I ever did a Cup race, just the way they left the pits they were wide open.
  "Regular road racers take a while to get up to speed. But from the moment they wave the green, these guys are just on it, 100 percent."

   Strategy here? Some teams think they can do the 110-lap race on just two pit stops.
    Said: "Tires are a big deal here...but it all depends on where in the pack you're running. If you can make it 40 laps on gas, you'll pit (the last time) with 40 to go.
    "But if you're running mid-pack and the caution comes out with 20 to go, there will be guys pitting for tires and others staying (to keep track position).
    "I think you'll see a lot of different scenarios...and that's when you see a lot of contract. When some guys are on old tires and others are on new tires. That really makes it interesting."

   Said's list of NASCAR's top road racers:
   Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, Said says. "And Jimmie Johnson is the best in these cars who's ever lived."  

   "To come in here, no matter how good a driver you think you are, these guys are for sure the best in the world....and to come in here just twice a year is tough," Said says.
   "I haven't been in one of these cars since Watkins Glen last August. And that wasn't my best result ever..."
    Last summer Said ran 28th here and 22nd at the Glen.
    "I relish the challenge; it's a privilege I get to do it, and I've had a great career doing it...even though I may not have won a lot of races, but I love competing, and I'm very competitive. If I can run in the top-15, it would feel like a win.
    "If I can stay out of trouble and not make Greg Biffle mad, and run in the top-15, and bring it home without knocking the fenders off it, I think Frankie will be happy."


     Boris Said: best road racer in NASCAR? If given the right equipment..... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




Never-Been Boris

Boris Said was a "power" only in that his road racing reputation was better in prerace than in the actual race. He's been in NASCAR since his abysmal 1997 run in the Truck Series and he still gets chances he objectively speaking doesn't deserve. Why people still think he's worth anything is baffling.

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