Sonoma Raceway is not Matt Kenseth’s best track. With an average finish of 22.1 through 15 starts, it’s his worst track on the Sprint Cup circuit.
His next worse average finish is at Talladega Superspeedway, where even though he has one win (2012), Kenseth averages a finish of 18th at the restrictor plate track.
But Sonoma’s 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course is where the Cup teams are heading this week. There, Kenseth has earned only one top-10 finish (2008) and it’s the only track Kenseth has never led a lap on (he has also led one lap at Watkins Glen International).
However, Kenseth still looks forward to the first road course on the Cup schedule.
“I enjoy racing at Sonoma, but I think the hardest thing for me there is to give my crew the feedback they need in order to make my car right,” Kenseth said in a release. “I feel that when we get it right, I can run some really fast laps there, but I’m always working to tell them exactly what I need and how to get our DG Camry there.”
In Kenseth’s ear for the third year is crew chief Jason Ratcliff. In their first two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth finished 19th in 2013 and 42nd in 2014 after a crash on Lap 75 with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth was running 13th at the time.
“The last couple of times that we’ve gone to Sonoma, Matt and the No. 20 team have had some good qualifying efforts and fast cars,” Ratcliff said. Kenseth has started sixth and 14th the last two visits to Sonoma. “I thought we had a really good run going last year but we just didn’t get the finish to show for a decent day due to a crash.”
Said Kenseth: “Sonoma seems to be different every time we go there. Some races have been won there by strategy, while other ones have been won by speed. Restarts are really important at Sonoma, and of course, track position is incredibly important there.”
For Kenseth’s newest JGR teammate, Carl Edwards, strategy is what won the race in 2014, when Edwards started fourth.
In the last five seasons, the winner of the Sonoma race has started in the top five just twice. The other three races the winner has come from 11th (Kurt Busch, 2011), sixth (Clint Bowyer, 2012) and 14th (Martin Truex Jr., 2013).
“Sonoma is more like a short track kind of road course and it’s completely different from the other road course we visit in Watkins Glen,” Ratcliff said. “You’ll see guys who run well at Sonoma are not necessarily the same ones who run well at the Glen.”
Kenseth isn’t in desperate need of a win to get into the Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to his victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, he can look forward to the race at Kentucky Speedway in two weeks. Through four races there, Kenseth has his best average finish of 4.5.