The first of two road course races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is up this weekend as the stars of NASCAR’s premiere series will visit the Sonoma Raceway. Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET/FS1/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is full of storylines as usual.
Here are the top five.
Will We See 10th Straight Different Winner?
Since 2009, we’ve seen a different driver win NASCAR’s race in Sonoma every year. From Kasey Kahne to Kevin Harvick, no one in between has won multiple times since. Will we go a decade of different winners each year?
Kahne is for an under funded team, so I don’t see him winning. What about Jimmie Johnson? From 2009 to 2015, he had seven straight top 10 finishes. But, the last two years he’s finished 13th in each race. Plus, he hasn’t won in a while, so I don’t see him winning on Sunday either. Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer won in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012. They did so with different teams that they’re with now. They do have legitimate shots of winning. Their team now (Stewart-Haas Racing) has won two straight years in Sonoma. One of their drivers that won (Tony Stewart) has since retired, so he can’t win. So did 2014 winner Carl Edwards. Harvick, the latest winner and current SHR driver has a great shot as his teammates Busch and Bowyer.
The only other winners in that time frame were Martin Truex Jr. (2013) and Kyle Busch (2015). Other than his win, Truex has had just two other top 10 finishes in his Sonoma career. Eight of his last 11 Sonoma finishes have resulted in a 16th or worse effort including a finish of 42nd in 2015 and 37th last year.
Busch, has been stellar so he like the SHR group has a shot.
But, odds says we’re destined for a 10th straight race with a different winner than the past. The weekend is shaping up for that.
As stated above, SHR won the last two years and won the last race of the season in Michigan. Plus, three of their four drivers have had a ton of success in Sonoma. From 2011 on, Harvick has had five top 10 finishes in seven starts. Bowyer has had four top 10’s in that same time frame. Busch, has had six top 10’s with a worst result of 12th in that era.
In fact, out of the last seven years, that trio has won three of those Sonoma races, albeit only Harvick’s win last year was actually with SHR. But, with how dominant that they’ve been in 2018, how can you pick against them?
The starting spots for them aren’t ideal, but they speed is actually there. Qualifying was tough on them with the conditions at the start of the first round being the way they were. With being held up, they didn’t get a flier that would have put them up front.
They can still win this race.
Road Course Ringers
Once upon a time, road course ringers would be the biggest storyline of a road course weekend. Guys like Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Tommy Kendall, Scott Pruett and others would land in a competitive ride for Sonoma and/or Watkins Glen and challenge the full-time drivers for the win. While none have actually won a Cup race, it was a fun storyline.
Now, that’s an ancient word. It just don’t happen anymore. The reason? The road course races mean so much these days that drivers have taken extra training courses on how to properly race them. There’s not much of a drop off from the regulars and the experts anymore.
Just look at some of the names that have won recently in Sonoma as an example.
AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose were the most recent notable “road course ringers” but both raced on a full-time basis. Now, Allmendinger is the only real one left.
There have been a total of 438 California born drivers to race in NASCAR. 40 of them (9.1%) have posted at least one victory in the series. But, among those 40, most of them are among the all-time greats. Jeff Gordon leads them all with 93 Cup wins. Jimmie Johnson is next best with 83. Kevin Harvick is next behind them both in Cup victories with 42, but he has more than all of them in terms of total NASCAR victories with 47 more in XFINITY and 14 in Trucks. Combined, that’s 103 total trips to victory lane.
Harvick, is the defending Sonoma winner. Johnson, is also a past winner. Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger are other California natives on this weekend’s entry-list, as all four could easily win this Sunday.
Starting Position Matters
28 percent of the overall winners in Sonoma have come from a front row starting spot. 52-percent from the top five. So, it’s safe to say, the race winner on Sunday will likely come from the first 3 Rows. But, if you go through the top 10, you have a 69-percent shot of winning. 93-percent chance is you qualify in the top 15.
This trend shows that Sunday’s winner will be the ones that advances past the first round of qualifying. Don’t advance, you basically have no shot of a win.