Stewart-Haas Racing enjoys best race since winning Daytona 500

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It’s hard to believe, but Stewart-Haas Racing went winless between the first and 16th NASCAR Cup races of the year.

The team co-owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas bookended the first half of the season by winning the Daytona 500 and Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

Though the day was highlighted by Kevin Harvick winning at Sonoma for the first time, it was improved upon by Clint Bowyer finishing second in a car that looked like a diecast that had been manhandled by a 3-year-old.

It was just the third time SHR cars had finished 1-2 in a Cup race.

For Stewart, a year removed from his final Cup win at the same track, it made for an “awesome day” in the middle of a tough year that started with Kurt Busch‘s Daytona 500 triumph.

“I think the important thing is with the way our series is laid down, having two of the drivers get their wins already at this point of the year and solidly in the Chase, that’s a very important deal for our company, especially from the sponsorship side,” Stewart said. “Got great partners, obviously, and to get Mobil 1 in Victory Lane this weekend was great. That’s big, and our first year with Ford now and we’ve won two races already this season, so I think that’s a really solid effort and shows how good a partnership we have with Ford right now.”

Though there’s been bumps in the team’s transition from Chevy to Ford this season, the team has had off-track issues finding sponsors for its four-car team and legal problems with existing sponsor, Nature’s Bakery. A four-month legal battle resulted in the company sponsoring Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer in two races each later this year.

Bowyer has had Haas-owned companies as his primary sponsor in 12 of 16 races. Busch has had them as a co-primary sponsor in 15 of 16 races.

“For two of the four teams right now, they can start worrying about what to do to get ready for the (playoffs) and having the ability to try different things to prepare for that,” Stewart said of the next 10 races before the playoffs start. “That’s a really important thing for our company right now, and I think we all expected that Kevin would have got it sooner than this, but there’s just been some bad luck, some different venues that he’s been really, really strong at that we just had some weird and bad luck that have crept in to his program.”

Entering Sonoma, Harvick had five top fives, with his best result a runner-up finish at Pocono. He still has three stage wins, tying him for second most with Kyle Larson.

Bowyer left the road course with his second runner-up finish of the year and his third top five, his most since 2014. His rebound comes while he works with crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who was paired with Stewart in his final year of competition.

“Clint and Buga, to be having the season they’ve had as a fresh driver and crew chief combination, I think they’ve had a really good start to their season, as well,” Stewart said. “I think there’s a lot of positive things in the company, and the results haven’t obviously always shown that, but at the same time, being able to sit on the pit box and see it a lot more clearly from the pit box than I could from my own car last year, I think there’s a lot of things that we’re excited about.”

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Kevin Harvick wins Cup race at Sonoma, ends 20-race winless streak

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Kevin Harvick led the final 22 laps and managed to save enough fuel to win Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

The top five were Harvick, Clint Bower, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

It was Harvick’s first win of the season and ends a 20-race winless streak dating back to last October at Kansas Speedway. It is also Harvick’s first win since Stewart-Haas Racing switched from Chevrolet to Ford.

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of the guys have put in a lot of hours” Harvick told Fox Sports 1. “It’s paying off. I feel like we’ve got a lot of room to grow.

“For us, it’s been okay. We’ve been competitive, we just haven’t gotten to victory lane. I felt like we’ve had a couple of opportunities to get there but just came up a little bit short. This is worth the wait, to come to Sonoma so many years.”

The 1.99-mile road course was one of four tracks on the Cup circuit Harvick had not won at. The win comes in his 17th start at the track. It came after Harvick placed 25th in Stage 1 and 20th in Stage 2

Harvick, who grew up about 300 miles south of Sonoma in Bakersfield, California, completed a weekend sweep after winning Saturday’s K&N Pro Series race the track.

“I guess we’ll have to do that again because it worked out pretty good,” Harvick said.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Jimmie Johnson

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Brad Keselowski successfully used pit strategy to earn his first top five at Sonoma. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the only other track he does not have a top five … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth in his final Sonoma start after being involved in two accidents early in the race. It’s his fourth top 10 of the year … Paul Menard finished 11th, his best result since placing ninth at Talladega.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: After winning Stage 1 and leading 25 laps, Martin Truex Jr. left the race with 24 laps to go with an engine problem. He finished 37th in his second DNF of the year. …. Kasey Kahne crashed on the frontstretch on the last lap of the race. He finished 24th. … Danica Patrick salvaged her day by finishing 17th after being in two accidents early in the race, the second a wreck in Turn 4 early in Stage 2 that took out Ricky Stenhouse Jr.AJ Allmendinger finished 35th, six laps down after suffering battery problems mid-race. … Pole-sitter Kyle Larson finished 26th, one lap down. It’s his worst finish of the year outside his DNF in the Coke 600.

NOTABLE: Harvick is now four wins away from having 100 total among all three of NASCAR’s national series … Harvick’s win over Bowyer was the third time Stewart-Haas Racing has finished 1-2 in a Cup race … Alon Day, the first Israeli-born driver to compete in the Cup series, finished 32nd in his series debut.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I had no earthly idea what was going on. I passed so many cars. I don’t even know what strategy won. It was very difficult to know what was going on from inside the car. I would assume that caused a lot of great viewing and entertainment that was fun to watch, but I had no clue what was going on out there.” – Jimmie Johnson after finishing 13th.

WHAT’S NEXT: Coke Zero 400 at Dayton International Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 1 on NBC.

Earnhardt, Danica, Larson in early tangle at Sonoma; Patrick hit later by Stenhouse

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Bad luck struck early for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick and pole sitter Kyle Larson in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

The trio were entering Turn 11 at the conclusion of Lap 14 when Earnhardt locked his brakes and spun. He slid back into the middle of the lane, clipped the right rear of Larson’s car, while Patrick could not stop and hit Earnhardt in the middle of the right side.

All three cars suffered minor to moderate damage. When the race restarted on Lap 19, Larson had fallen back to 14th, Patrick was 24th and Earnhardt was 25th. Earnhardt also was penalized for speeding while exiting pit road. It was his sixth speeding penalty of the season.

Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski were at the front of the field on the ensuing restart.

UPDATED:

Patrick was involved in another wreck not of her own doing on Lap 31. Kyle Larson pinched Dale Earnhardt Jr., who got into the rear of Patrick’s car, spinning her. Patrick’s boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., could not avoid her car and sustained heavy, race-ending damage to his Roush Fenway Racing Ford.

“I tried to get down below it and hit it,” Stenhouse told Fox Sports 1. “It’s just unfortunate. … All in all, we were trying to bide our time and save our tires. Now we’ve got Goodyears left that aren’t going to be used.”

Patrick, meanwhile, asked over her team radio, “Who is that dumb?” She was later told it was Larson, but she didn’t reply.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

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Sunday’s main event of the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race, will have a definite Chip Ganassi Racing flavor when the green flag drops.

Pole sitter Kyle Larson will lead the 38-car field to the starting line, while CGR teammate Jamie McMurray will be his wing man, alongside on the front row.

Larson is hoping to do the same thing Sunday that he did last Sunday at Michigan: he started from the pole and finished with the win. He and McMurray are in Chevrolets, while Toyotas make up Row 2 with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

Row 3 has the Chevrolet of A.J. Allmendinger and the Ford of Danica Patrick, who will be the highest-starting driver for both Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s Patrick’s third-best career start in a Cup race, and her highest start since Charlotte in May 2014.

The defending race winner, Tony Stewart, retired at the end of last season from NASCAR Cup competition.

Click here for the full row-by-row starting lineup.

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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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski