After a much needed off-weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west to Wine Country in Sonoma, Ca. for the Toyota-Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET). This is the first road course race of the season meaning there will be left AND right turns.
The grueling 11 turn, 1.99-mile road course provides some of the best racing in all of NASCAR year after year. Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race. If you recall, this was Busch’s first win of 2015, which ended up propelling him to the amazing summer stretch where he won four out of five races coming back from his injury. He ultimately wound up hoisting the hardware in Miami, winning the championship with the No. 18 team.
However, it was his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Carl Edwards, who nabbed the pole (his third of the season) for Sunday’s race with a speed of 95.777 mph (74.799 seconds).
“It’s so neat,” Edwards told FS1. “My teammates have helped me a ton. I just hope we can put this together for another win. We’re having a good season. We’re here to win.”
Road course ace AJ Allmendinger will start second, with Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, and Kyle Larson rounding out the top-five. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart round out the top-ten starting positions. Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski will start off 11th and 12th after advancing to the final round of qualifying.
A funny moment happened in the first practice session of the afternoon on Friday. Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart were on track close together, trying to get the best run off turn 11 as possible. The No. 1 cut Smoke off, and Smoke wasn’t too pleased. He stuck his hand out the window, told McMurray he was “number one,” and business kept on as usual.
Another moment that wasn’t so funny was when the No. 18 car of Busch hit a jackrabbit on track. No damage was done to the car other than some red marks, signaling the departure of said jackrabbit.
Although the defending champion in Busch has had four straight finishes outside the top-30, he is still a favorite to win this weekend. Allmendinger is one of the many wild cards this weekend, along with Stewart, Clint Bowyer and McMurray to name a few, who will start 18th and 21st respectively.
Road course racing evens out the playing field, so to speak, with the car not mattering as much as usual on ovals. The driver is the main factor on these types of tracks.
Other notable starters include Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was the fastest in practice Friday, in 13th, Jimmie Johnson in 15th, rookie Chase Elliott in 16th, Matt Kenseth in 23rd, and Kevin Harvick in 25th. In the past, starting back in the pack was an insurmountable feat. But since the advent of double-file restarts on road courses, the game has been changed and drivers starting as far back as 35th have a chance at winning added with the strategy aspect of a race.
Whenever NASCAR heads to a road course, it begs the question: should there be a road course race in the Chase? That topic has been discussed for years, but in this writer’s opinion, it is a resounding yes. The racing is awesome to watch on television, and creates another layer of competition that drivers need to harness their energy and skills on throughout the season.
As I said in this week’s episode of Victory Lane, I’m going to take the No. 47 of AJ Allmendinger to win and punch his ticket to the Chase. Always solid on road courses, the Dinger’s performance in 2016 has been better across the board. That, partnered along with his confidence in his own road course skills, will propel him to victory lane at Sonoma.
Be sure to follow myself on twitter as well as Impact Sports for updates all weekend. Enjoy the race,and remember,if they’re turning right this weekend, it’s supposed to happen!