NASCAR viewer’s guide: Sonoma Raceway

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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)