sonoma raceway

What’s the point? At Sonoma, it mattered for many

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Ten races remain until the playoffs begin. With only six different winners, a number of playoff spots likely will be set based on points.

But points also will be critical in the top 10 in the standings. Playoff points are awarded to the regular-season champion (15 playoff points) all the way to 10th in the standings (one playoff point). The race for playoff points continue this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

MORE: Click here for the full results from the Sonoma race.

MORE: Click here for the Sonoma points standings.

Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway showed how key points could be. Consider these examples:

# Denny Hamlin finished fifth but scored the most points with 51.

How Hamlin did it: He won the second stage (10 points) and finished second in the opening stage (nine points). Those 19 points were significant.

What it means: Even though Hamlin finished fifth to winner Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin gained seven more points than Truex (51-44). Truex is fifth in the season standings and leads Hamlin by one point. They’re both racing to be as high in the points to get as many bonus playoff points. Sunday was a key day for Hamlin.

# William Byron finished 19th but had the fifth-most points in the race with 36.

How Byron did it: He won the first stage (10 points) and finished third in the second stage (eight points). Those 18 points were huge for him.

What it means: Byron finished two spots behind Daniel Suarez but scored 16 more points because of crew chief Chad Knaus’ focus on scoring as many stage points as possible instead of pitting Byron before the end of both stages (as Suarez did). That’s key because Suarez now leads Byron by two points for 13th in the season standings. Should there be some new winners this year, it will mean there will be fewer playoff spots via points. So the higher in points, the better. Every position could be critical. Also important to note is that Bryon’s 36 points were three times as many points as he scored at Sonoma last year.

# Kyle Larson finished 10th but had the third-most points with 39.

How Larson did it: He finished fourth in the first stage (seven points). He finished sixth in the second stage (five points). Those 12 points were key for him.

What it means: Larson entered the race five points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who held the final playoff spot. Larson remains 15th in the season standings but has a 17-point lead on the last playoff spot, now manned by Ryan Newman

# Joey Logano held on to his points lead despite finishing 23rd.

How Logano did it: A 23rd-place finish is worth 14 points but Logano finished the day with 29 points. He finished third in the first stage (eight points) and was fourth in the second stage (seven points).

What it means: Logano leads Kyle Busch (37 points after a runner-up finish) by one point atop the season standings. The regular-season champion gets 15 playoff points and second gets 10 points so there’s something at stake for both in the remaining 10 regular-season races.

Sonoma/Gateway winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joe Gibbs Racing — Martin Truex Jr. wins at Sonoma Raceway and Kyle Busch finishes second, giving the organization its 10th victory in 16 Cup races this season. For car owner Joe Gibbs, it capped off a weekend that included his grandson Ty winning his first ARCA race on Saturday at Gateway.

Matt DiBenedetto Finished a career-best fourth and was his first top 10 for Leavine Family Racing. DiBenedetto celebrated by thanking those who have given him a chance to run in Cup.

Ross Chastain A week after his win was taken away when his truck failed inspection, Chastain simply came back and won at Gateway after a call by crew chief Phil Gould to pit for fuel only late. Chastain only needs to be in the top 20 in points to be headed to the Truck playoffs and that will happen soon.

Ryan BlaneyHis third-place finish tied for his best finish of the year, matching what he did at Phoenix in March.

LOSERS

Daniel Suarez Had to start at the rear because of an engine change. He was running fourth when he made his last scheduled pit stop. However, the team was called for an uncontrolled tire. The penalty dropped Suarez to 27th with 24 laps to go. He finished 17th. The bigger issue, though, was that although he finished two spots ahead of William Byron, Suarez actually lost 16 points to Byron based on the difference in stage points. That’s important because Byron is now two points behind Suarez for 13th in the season standings.

Clint Bowyer Was running fifth on Lap 27 when he came in to pit because of a loose wheel. He fell to 37th and went on to finish 11th, a nice recovery but losing all that track position made his day longer. What might have been had he not had that loose wheel?

Chase ElliottEngine failure ended what looked like would be a top-five day, if not better. Instead, he finished 37th.

Ryan Blaney earns Sonoma top five after ‘smooth day’

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For Ryan Blaney, race winner Martin Truex Jr. and runner-up finisher Kyle Busch “were just gone” by the end of Sunday’s race in Sonoma.

“Just gone” was how Blaney described the roughly 30-second gap from Truex and Busch back to Blaney’s No. 12 Ford, which took the checkered flag in third.

That gap didn’t take away from a much-needed run for the Team Penske driver.

It was Blaney’s first top five in seven races (fourth at Bristol). It was also his second straight top five on a road course, following his win in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval last fall.

Blaney was the only non-Toyota car in the top five.

“Kind of a smooth day for us,” Blaney told FS1. “Qualified decent. The way the stages are, you can either choose to finish the stage out, get stage points, but you have to restart way in the middle of the pack, or pit early. That’s kind of the strategy we wanted to do.”

With the pit early strategy, Blaney restarted in the top five on both restarts and was able to briefly take second place on the second restart before losing it to Kyle Busch on a bump-and-run.

In a race that didn’t see any non-stage cautions, the race went green over the final 45 laps and saw green flag stops start with 30 to go.

Blaney never saw the leaders again.

“(A caution) would have given us a shot. I had no shot if there wasn’t a yellow,” Blaney said. “They were really good on long runs. You just give yourself a hope of restarting close to them and trying to make a move. We almost got the lead one time on a restart. I was hoping to get that shot again but it never came.”

In a season where he’s been outshone by teammates Brad Keselowski (three wins) and Joey Logano (two wins), Blaney was the only competitive Penske driver. Keselowski ran 18th and Logano placed 23rd after experiencing battery problems.

Blaney’s previous best Sonoma result in three starts was ninth.

“You come into every weekend expecting to run well, no matter if it is your best track or worst track,” Blaney said. “We had top-five speed all weekend. Not winning speed. We kind of hung around all day. We were able to hang in there and stay out of trouble and able to come home with a decent day and a race car that was intact, which is good.”

 

Sonoma Cup results, points report

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Martin Truex Jr. scored his fourth Cup victory in eight races, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch over the closing laps Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Truex became the second driver to win consecutive Cup races at Sonoma, joining Jeff Gordon (who won three straight from 1998-2000).

Ryan Blaney finished third, followed by a career-best fourth place for Matt DiBenedetto and a fifth for Denny Hamlin.

It was the 23rd career victory for Truex, who has three wins at Sonoma. The 2017 series champion led three times for 59 laps, including the final 24.

Click here for the full results from the Sonoma race.

Click here for the full race report from Sonoma.

In the season standings, Ryan Newman moved into the 16th spot in the standings with a seventh at Sonoma, clinging to the final provisional playoff spot with 10 races remaining in the regular season.

Newman has a one-point edge over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 12th at Sonoma and slid a spot to 17th in the standings. Erik Jones (eighth at Sonoma) is five points behind Newman in 18th.

At the top of the standings, Joey Logano (23rd at Sonoma) leads by one point over Kyle Busch.

Click here for the Sonoma points standings.

Matt DiBenedetto celebrates career-high fourth-place finish

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Matt DiBenedetto celebrated his career-best fourth-place finish Sunday at Sonoma Raceway by thanking those who had given him the opportunity to run Cup and helped him with the road course.

DiBenedetto’s previous best in Cup was sixth at Bristol in April 2016.

“Proud of you man,” crew chief Mike Wheeler said to DiBenedetto on the team’s radio after the race.

The result also was DiBenedetto’s first top-10 finish of the season with Leavine Family Racing.

“This is a team effort,” DiBenedetto told FS1. “I’m so lucky to be doing this. My path to get here has been so out of the ordinary and old school, I’m so thankful. I can’t tell you how many people took a chance on me.”

DiBenedetto noted the team’s sponsors, Toyota Racing Development, Leavine Family Racing, and others.

“All those people had to say yes and … take the chance on me,” he said. “I can’t explain how thankful I am.”

After thanking wife Taylor for her support, DiBenedetto also thanked NASCAR on NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger, saying: “This one is for my buddy AJ Allmendinger for helping me so much (with the road course).”

DiBenedetto started 19th and did not go for stage points. Instead, Wheeler had DiBenedetto pit before each of the first two stages to set the team up for the finish. DiBenedetto was sixth when the final stage began.

DiBenedetto pitted for the final time on Lap 65 of the 90-lap race, later than most. That put him outside the top 10 but gave him tires that were a few laps fresher than many of his competitors.

DiBenedetto used that to his advantage. He returned to the top 10 on Lap 70 after passing William Byron. Ten laps later, DiBenedetto moved into the top five by passing Jimmie Johnson. DiBenedetto passed Kevin Harvick for fourth on Lap 86 and stayed there to the finish for his best Cup result in 156 starts.