We all thought that Stewart-Haas Racing were the ones to beat for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350. In the last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race two weeks ago in Michigan, they finished 1-2-3. Furthermore, they’ve won seven of the 15 races in 2018, a series-high. On top of that, SHR has won the last two races at the Sonoma Raceway.
Seemed like a no brainer right?
Well, so far, it’s anything but.
While Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer were quickest in the two practice sessions around the 1.99-mile road course this weekend, the entire group has been inconsistent. Busch, hasn’t finished worse than 12th at Sonoma since 2011, including having a win seven years ago and four top four finishes in that timeframe, was 14th in the practice session that he didn’t lead. In qualifying, he was only 23rd fastest.
Bowyer, compared Sonoma to a short track like Martinsville. That’s good news for him because he won earlier this season on the Virginia paperclip. He also won the last race in Michigan. But, when he wasn’t fastest in practice, he was only 17th. He starts 19th on Sunday.
The third driver is Aric Almirola and he was 19th and ninth respectively in practice. He was only 24th in qualifying. The threesome blamed the bad track conditions with speedy dry all over it making the surface slick in the first round. By virtue of that, they had to wait until the end to make their runs. With limited time available, they were held up by slower cars and hence the starting position they have.
93-percent of all 29 Sonoma races have seen the winner start in the top 15. This trio starts behind that.
That leaves Kevin Harvick to carry the banner for them like he has all season. Harvick, qualified sixth and was 12th and fifth respectively in the dual practice sessions. But, trends aren’t on his side. We’ve had nine straight years with a different winner in Sonoma. Can he really buck that trend and go back-to-back?