NASCAR viewer’s guide: Sonoma Raceway


This weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway in California for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, the second road course race of the season.

Sonoma will have a “full” race experience for the first time since 2019. Sonoma’s 2020 race was cancelled because of the pandemic, and last year’s race was run with limited attendance.

Sunday’s race will use the facility’s shorter 1.99-mile course that includes a chute between Turns 4 and 7. It will be the first time this version of the course has been used since 2018.

Chasing Chase

Virtually every road course race starts with Chase Elliott as a favorite. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has won seven of the past 15 road course events and was runner-up to teammate Kyle Larson at Sonoma last year. In the past 16 road course races, Elliott has finished the top 10 only three times.

In the road course win column among active drivers, Elliott is the runaway leader with seven. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have four each.

Oddly, however, Elliott has not won at Sonoma.

Still Looking For Victory Lane

As the season rolls on through the second half, more than a few key drivers remain in search of their first win and a virtual locked-up spot in the playoffs.

Of that group, Martin Truex Jr. seems the most likely to check off that win this week. He has won three times at Sonoma, including two of the past three races. It’s a complicated week for Truex as he is weighing whether to return next season with Joe Gibbs Racing or to 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. Entering Sonoma, he is one spot below the playoff points cutoff. There have been 11 different winners this year, and, as of this weekend, five other drivers – Blaney, Truex, Bell, Aric Almirola and Reddick – would qualify for the playoffs through points.

Harvick is mired in a 58-race winless streak. Although he is known as “The Closer” for his ability to race well in the final stages of races, he has 34 top 10s without a win over that 58-race stretch. Nineteen different drivers have won races during Harvick’s drought.

Harvick, driving Fords, can’t be cheered by the Blue Oval’s recent road course record. Ford hasn’t visited victory lane in the past 13 road course races. Chevrolet has won 11 of those.

What’s Next For Chastain?

Sonoma will provide the first opportunity for drivers who might be upset at Ross Chastain to illustrate the degree of their anger, and a road course often is a good place for such activity.

Chastain ran into Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott last week at Gateway and admitted after the race that he “absolutely drove over my head today.” Hamlin and Elliott responded with moves of their own on track, but post-race commentary indicated that the “Chastain doesn’t play well with others” dynamic probably isn’t over.

NASCAR said it might discuss the Gateway incidents with the drivers this weekend.

Entry lists

Thirty-six drivers are on the Cup entry list for Sonoma.

Scott Heckert will make his fourth career start in the series. The Connecticut driver ran three road course events in 2021 with a top finish of 26th at Sonoma. Sports car veteran Joey Hand will make his third Cup start, driving a Ford for Rick Ware Racing. AJ Allmendinger will step up from the Xfinity Series to run a Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing.

Sonoma Cup entry list

Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race has 39 entries.

The field 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 has had a rough season in Cup, will be in a Team DGR Ford in the Truck race.

Sonoma Truck entry list

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

 (All times Eastern)

 Friday, June 10

Forecast: Mostly sunny, high of 98 degrees, winds 10-20 mph

  • 6:05 – 6:55 p.m. – Truck practice (No TV)

Saturday, June 11

Forecast: Sunny, high of 91 degrees, winds 10-20 mph

  • 1 – 1:55 p.m. – Truck qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:35 – 5:25 p.m. – Cup practice (FS2)
  • 5:25 – 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

Forecast: Sunny, high of 80 degrees, winds 10-20 mph

  • 4 p.m. – Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM Radio)










North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.


Josh Williams suspended for one race after Atlanta infraction


NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams has been suspended for one race because of his actions during last Saturday’s Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Williams will be ineligible to participate in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. He would be able to return for the April 1 race at Richmond, Virginia.

Williams was penalized for a “behavioral” infraction, specifically disobeying a NASCAR request.

In a tweet after the suspension was announced, Williams said: “I stand behind what I did and I don’t regret any decisions I made. I stand behind NASCAR for these decisions and will continue and always support them.” He said Alex Labbe will drive the team’s No. 92 car at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.

MORE: Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended

NASCAR officials ordered Williams off the track during Saturday’s race after his car was involved in an accident. Debris falling from his car prompted a caution flag, leading NASCAR to order him to park.

Instead of going to the garage area, Williams parked his car at the start-finish line and walked to pit road.

Williams was escorted to the NASCAR hauler office at the track. He waited there until the conclusion of the race and then met with officials for about 20 minutes.

MORE: NBC Power Rankings: Christopher Bell rises to the top

Section 8.8.9.I of the Xfinity Series Rule Book states that with the Damaged Vehicle Policy, NASCAR can order a car off the track: “At the discretion of the Series Managing Director, if a damaged vehicle elects not to enter pit road on the first opportunity or if a damaged vehicle exits pit road before sufficient repairs had been made and thereafter causes or extends a caution (e.g. leaking fluid, debris, etc.), then said vehicle may incur a lap(s) or time penalty or may not be permitted to return to the Race.”

Williams later admitted he had violated a rule but said he was frustrated by the NASCAR decision.

“We all work really hard and to only run ‘X’ amount of laps and then to have something like a piece of Bear Bond and put us out of the race, it’s really frustrating,” Williams said after his meeting with series officials. “Small team. We work really hard. We’ve got to make our sponsors happy, right? It doesn’t do any good sitting in the garage. It is what it is. We’ll learn from it and move on.

“I told them I was a little bit frustrated,” Williams said of NASCAR’s call, “but it was in the rule book.”