It might be a total coincidence, but the drivers that make up the “Big 3” in Cup competition this season have one thing in common.
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. enter this weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway as the only active drivers to win at the track in the last five years.
They also are the only active drivers with multiple victories at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen International (the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval makes its debut on Sept. 30).
Busch leads the way with four wins, with two at Sonoma (2008, 2015) and WGI (2008, 2013).
“There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do,” Busch said in a media release. “It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive.
“When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”
Truex and Harvick follow Busch with two wins each, but they didn’t join this exclusive club until last year.
Harvick won his first race at Sonoma, 11 years after his lone victory at WGI.
Truex then won at WGI, four years after he claimed his second career Cup win in 2013 at Sonoma.
“I love the challenge of road racing,” Truex said in a media release. “I grew up racing go-karts on road courses (in New Jersey) and fell in love with that quickly. The excitement level definitely goes up a few notches when we compete at a road course.”
Truex led a race-high 25 laps last year at Sonoma before falling out with engine problems.
“Sonoma is more like a short track,” Truex said. “It has a lot of slower speed corners and a lot of elevation changes. The worn out pavement causes tires to wear out fast. It’s almost like Darlington on a road course. You have to be disciplined at Sonoma. One little hiccup can knock you off the course and most likely out of the race.”
Outside the “Big 3” there are seven active drivers who have a single road course win.
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger have victories at Watkins Glen. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have won at Sonoma.
Gone are the days of Jeff Gordon (series-high nine road course wins) and Tony Stewart (eight wins, including five at WGI).
Why is it so hard for drivers to string together consistent success at road courses today? Why have there been nine different winners in the last nine Sonoma races?
Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan shared his thoughts.
“I think the phrase of ‘just keep all four wheels on the track’ is a little outdated,” Ragan said in a media release. “I think the drivers have gotten so much better. You don’t have as many guys spinning out and making mistakes as we did 10 years ago. I feel like 25 guys are really good when we go to Sonoma. And when you see short track guys, like a Martin Truex or Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch, they’re really good at Sonoma without having that road course background. I just think all the drivers have worked on their road racing skills.”