Matt Kenseth

NASCAR America: Dale Jr.’s aggressiveness at Sonoma pays off, will need it at Daytona

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Dale Earnhardt was very aggressive in his final Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, and while it may have resulted in his Lap 14 accident in Turn 11, it also helped produce his third top 10 of the year and his second in a row.

“I think being offensive is better than being passive on a road course, nothing wrong with that,” said NASCAR America analyst Max Papis, who also broke down what caused Earnhardt’s bizarre spin early in Sunday’s race that also involved Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson.

“You’ve got to commit, usually the pass has happened before you actually arrive at the corner,” Papis said. “He thought that was a good opportunity, (then) committed. ”

NASCAR America’s analysts also discussed Earnhardt’s upcoming start at Daytona, which likely will be his final Cup start there. The track may be his best shot to earn a win and a spot in the playoffs.

The analysts believe the aggressiveness that was on display at Sonoma will be necessary for Earnhardt to pull a win out at Daytona.

Earnhardt’s year got off to a rough start in the Daytona 500. He was leading the race when Kyle Busch lost a tire in Turn 3 on Lap 105, spun and collected Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

Earnhardt was near the front at Talladega in May late in the race when he was forced to pit for a loose tire with less than 15 laps to go.

That leaves the 14-time most popular driver with just two more chances to win a restrictor-plate race, the format he’s earned 10 of his 26 Cup Series wins.

“They’ve got to find a way to give him a car where he can be aggressive Dale Jr.,” Jeff Burton said. “What makes him so good at Daytona and Talladega is that he doesn’t hesitate. He’s the guy setting the tempo, he’s the guy forcing the issue. … He can’t drive with caution, he can’t drive worried about if ‘is my car going to stick?’ He’s got to stick it in there and know it’s going to stick. He hasn’t had that the last several plate races.”

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

Clint Bowyer moves into last playoff transfer spot in points standings

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A runner-up finish at Sonoma by Clint Bowyer moved the Stewart-Haas Racing driver into the critical transfer spot for the Cup with 10 races left in the regular season.

Bowyer moved up to 11th in the points standings as teammate Kevin Harvick became the 11th driver to qualify for the playoffs with a win in 2017.

Winless drivers who provisionally are qualified for 16-driver playoffs on points: Kyle Busch (fourth), Chase Elliott (sixth), Jamie McMurray (eighth), Denny Hamlin (ninth) and Bowyer (11th). Joey Logano (10th in points) also is qualified despite having a Richmond win that doesn’t count for playoff eligibility because of a penalty.

Bowyer moved four points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the final spot on points.

Kyle Larson remained the regular-season points leader with a 13-point lead on Martin Truex Jr., who missed an opportunity to regain first in the rankings because of an engine failure. Truex did win his series-leading 11th stage, extending his playoff points total to 21 points, tops in the series.

Click here for the points standings after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

Jimmie Johnson triumphs in Stage 2 at Sonoma for first stage win of season

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Jimmie Johnson led the final 11 laps to win Stage 2 of the NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma Raceway.

Despite having three race wins this season, it is Johnson’s first stage win.

With several cars pitting in the closing laps of the stage, the top 10 were Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Ryan Newman.

On the second green-flag lap of the stage, Danica Patrick wrecked in Turn 4 after contact beneath her car between Kyle Larson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt was forced into Patrick, who spun and was then hit by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose Ford was too damaged to continue.

It was the second wreck to include Earnhardt and Patrick.

On Lap 35, AJ Allmendinger spun in Turn 11, causing the field to bottleneck behind him. Allmendinger made contact with Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch suffered damage to his grille in the bottleneck.

On Lap 39, the second caution of the stage was displayed for debris.

With six laps left in the stage, Daniel Suarez was spun by Billy Johnson in the No. 43 but continued on.

Kyle Larson Express earns second straight pole, Danica Patrick to start sixth

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Kyle Larson continues to lead the way in NASCAR — both literally and figuratively.

The current NASCAR Cup points leader will also start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway from the pole for the second straight race, having done so in last week’s eventual win at Michigan International Speedway.

“This is cool to get a pole on a road course in my home state,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “This is the closest track to Sacramento and Elk Grove, where I grew up, so lots of friends and family here.”

And to make things even sweeter, Larson (qualified with a field-best speed of 95.295 mph) will start Sunday’s race alongside Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who qualified on the outside of the front row with his own effort of 95.204 mph.

“I thought I did a really good job,” McMurray told FS1. “I don’t feel like I gave up, or that there was a corner that stuck out. Overall, it was a really good lap, but Kyle just got a little bit more.”

It was also Larson’s third pole of 2017; he also started from the front at Fontana (where he also won) in March.

Here’s the rest of the top 10 qualifiers:

Row 2: Martin Truex Jr. will start third, alongside Kyle Busch, still searching for his first Cup win since last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Row 3: A.J. Allmendinger starts fifth alongside Danica Patrick, who had the best qualifying effort of all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.

It was Patrick’s best Cup qualifying effort since starting fourth at Charlotte in May 2014, and her third-best Cup qualifying effort ever. It also marked the sixth time since she joined SHR that she out-ran all of her teammates, per RacingInsights.com.

“I feel like I can drive this place in my sleep just because I’ve driven so many laps here over the years,”Patrick told FS1. “Man, I hope Sunday’s good and everything falls right. It’s great, it’s nice, it’s been a tough go of it this year. It feels good to have a good starting spot and let’s hope we start clean and have a smooth day.”

Row 4: Ryan Blaney will start seventh, next to Chase Elliott, who was forced to go to backup car after wrecking in practice Friday.

Row 5: Chris Buescher starts ninth, his best career qualifying effort, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Only 38 cars are qualified for Sunday’s race. Matt Kenseth didn’t get an attempt in Saturday, so he’ll start from the back of the pack.

Click here for the full qualifying field results.

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Martin Truex Jr. leads first Cup practice at Sonoma

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Martin Truex Jr. posted the fastest lap in Friday’s opening Cup practice at Sonoma Raceway. Truex had a lap of 94.587 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (94.068 mph), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (93.684), Clint Bowyer (93.606) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (93.514).

Matt Kenseth had a motor issue after the oil pump belt went off. His team will change motors. He will start at the rear of the field Sunday.

Cup teams have another practice remaining today. They’ll practice from 6:30 – 7:55 p.m. ET.

Qualifying will be Saturday.

Click here for Cup practice report