SONOMA — He’s done thousands of laps around Sonoma Raceway, but Fairfield’s Jim Inglebright is always happy to be back racing in the Wine Country.
Inglebright wrapped up his practice sessions for the K&N Pro Series West at the track, Friday, and is looking forward to swapping some paint during the Carneros 200, Saturday.
The race is scheduled to start 12:30 p.m. after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying, which is set to begin at 10:40 a.m.
“I’m glad to be back, man. This is my backyard,” Inglebright said while lounging at his car hauler Friday afternoon. “I’m always happy to be here. I’ve been driving a lot. I’ve been driving my go-karts a lot, doing some road racing with some guys, some endurance stuff. I’ve been driving a lot just, not the K&N Series.”
It’s always about trying to find your groove during the practice sessions, and Inglebright is the first one to admit, even though he’s raced here maybe more than anyone else in the Pro Series, he’s always willing to learn things around the 1.99-mile, 10-turn road course.
inglebright was 10th fastest in the Friday morning’s practice at 88.983 mph and was eighth fastest in the afternoon session at 90.078 mph.
“Technology is changing all the time, so if you don’t stay up on that, you get left behind because this track is kind of an old track,” the driver of the No. 1 Federated Auto Parts car said. “You lose a lot of grip. Over the winter this year, we kind of focused on getting more forward bite. It looks like it worked for us. We’ve achieved some forward bite. We’ve given up a little bit of front grip, but we’re going to go out and try to compensate for that.
“Rodney Heygood, my crew chief, he’s pretty good at what he does. He has some pretty deep ties back east. Between him talking to all his buddies back there, and what he’s got going, we usually have a pretty good setup.”
Inglebright is also known as a master when it comes to being aggressive – just enough – to be able to get by drivers and move toward the front of the field on a track on which it isn’t easy to pass.
He started 22nd last year and finished 13th, started 14th and finished fourth in 2012 and started eighth and finished sixth in 2011.
“You’ve got to be aggressive,” Inglebright said. “We’re race car drivers. That’s what we do. But you have to be smart about it, too. There are only certain places on this track that you can be aggressive – and get away with it. Some of the places you just have to position your car to where you . . . try to capitalize on it.”
There’s only so much aggression you need during the practice sessions, but Inglebright admitted you can’t just lay back and cruise, either.
“(Friday) was mainly about keeping it on the track and try not to get into somebody else’s oil, or drop a wheel (off the track) and get into a fence,” he said. “But on the other hand, you have to hustle because you have to know where you’re at (in comparison to other drivers). If I qualify Top 10 (Saturday) I think I’m going to be (in pretty good shape).”
As the driver, Inglebright’s job is getting around the track as fast – and safely – as possible, but that’s just one aspect. The other starts with the other members of team before the car even sees the track.
“I rely on my crew 100 percent,” Inglebright said. “I have to try and be a machine. I have to shift, brake, gas, everything the same. And then when they make a change, I do the same thing and see what the car does different. So we see what the change did, not what the driver is doing.
“Every time you go on track, you can only take what the car’s going to give you. I have to see where the car is. I’m the human computer, if you will. I come back and tell Rodney what it’s doing and then I leave it up to him to make the changes.”
A human computer that knows how to get around Sonoma Raceway.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.