This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway in California for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, the second road race of the season.
Sonoma will have a “full” race experience for the first time since 2019. Sonoma’s 2020 race was canceled due to the pandemic, and last year’s race was held with limited attendance.
Sunday’s race will use the facility’s shorter 1.99-mile course which includes a chute between turns 4 and 7. It will be the first time this version of the course has been used since 2018.
Virtually all road races start with Chase Elliott as the favorite. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has won seven of the last 15 road events and was runner-up to teammate Kyle Larson at Sonoma last year. In the past 16 road races, Elliott has only finished in the top 10 three times.
In the road wins column among active drivers, Elliott is the trailing leader with seven. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have four each.
Curiously, however, Elliott didn’t win in Sonoma.
Still looking for Victory Lane
As the season winds down in the second half, more than a few key drivers remain in search of their first victory and a locked virtual spot in the playoffs.
Of that group, Martin Truex Jr. looks the most likely to pick up that win this week. He has won three times at Sonoma, including two of the last three races. It’s been a complicated week for Truex as he wonders if he will return next season with Joe Gibbs Racing or if he will retire.
Other top drivers still waiting for a first win this season are Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace.
Harvick’s case is particularly troublesome. Going into Sonoma, he is one spot below the playoff points threshold. There have been 11 different winners this year and, starting this weekend, five more drivers – Blaney, Truex, Bell, Aric Almirola and Reddick – would qualify for the playoffs on points.
Harvick is mired in a 58-race winless streak. Although he is known as “The Closer” for his ability to run well in the closing stages of races, he has 34 top 10 winless finishes over that 58-race streak. Nineteen different drivers have won races during the Harvick drought.
Harvick, driving for Ford, cannot be encouraged by the Blue Oval’s recent road course record. Ford has not visited victory lane in the last 13 road races. Chevrolet won 11.
What’s next for Chastain?
Sonoma will provide the first opportunity for drivers who might be upset with Ross Chastain to illustrate the degree of their anger, and a road course is often a good place for such activity.
Chastain met Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott last week at Gateway and admitted after the race that he “absolutely rolled over my head today”. Hamlin and Elliott responded with their own moves on the track, but post-race comments indicated that the “Chastain doesn’t play well with others” dynamic likely isn’t over.
NASCAR said it may discuss the Gateway incidents with drivers this weekend.
Thirty-six drivers are on the Cup entry list for Sonoma.
Scott Heckert will make his fourth career start on the show. The Connecticut driver ran three road events in 2021 with a 26th place finish at Sonoma. Sports car veteran Joey Hand will make his third Cup start, driving a Ford for Rick Ware Racing. AJ Allmendinger will leave the Xfinity Series to run a Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.
Sonoma Cup entry list
Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race has 39 entrants.
The peloton will include several Cup drivers. Kyle Busch will drive one of his team’s Toyotas. Ross Chastain will be in a Niece Motorsports Chevrolet, Austin Dillon in a Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet and Alex Bowman in a Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. Harrison Burton, who had a difficult season in the Cup, will be in a DGR Ford team in the Truck race.
Sonoma Truck entry list
The program and forecast for this weekend
(all Eastern times)
friday june 10
Forecast: Mainly sunny, highs of 98 degrees, winds of 10 to 20 mph
- 6:05 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Truck training (no TV)
Saturday June 11
Forecast: Sunny, high 91 degrees, winds 10-20 mph
- 1 p.m. – 1:55 p.m. – Truck qualifications (FS1)
- 4:35 p.m. – 5:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS2)
- 5:25 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Cup qualifying (FS2)
- 7:30 p.m. – Truck Race (75 laps, 149 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM Radio)
Sunday June 12
Provide: Sunny, high 80 degrees, winds 10-20 mph
- 4:00 p.m. – Cup Race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM Radio)