Toyota / Save Mart 350

What drivers said after Sonoma

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Martin Truex Jr. – winner: “Through the years you’ve seen guys figure things out, it lasts a while. I wasn’t sure this weekend how it was going to hold up, what we’ve been doing. With the Carousel, the big left‑hand corner, it really changed things up. Took a while to figure that out in practice.

“But luckily, we were able to just make the right tweaks. I had confidence that when the track got hot and slick on the long runs, we’ve had what we needed. Just a matter if we had enough speed to get there, and we did today.”

Kyle Busch – finished second: “Any time I had to lean on the left rear (tire), I just didn’t have the drive that I needed. Actually, tried to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be our problem. That had been our problem all day long. You get closer, you’re like, Okay, I can get him (Truex), I better go, pounce on him fast, so then he doesn’t have the time to pick up the pace.

“But it didn’t work. He was obviously saving a lot. I knew he was going to be saving a lot, have enough to be able to most likely hold us off. I was right.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “I had no shot if there wasn’t a yellow. 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.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished fourth: “I cannot explain how thankful and glad I am that we got a good run that we deserve. It has been a tough year; we just haven’t had the results that we deserve. We have had fast cars. I cannot explain how thankful I am to have this opportunity and how desperate I was to get a run like this for my team and how many people took a chance on me. I can’t explain how many people had to say yes including all of the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates, Toyota, TRD, the sponsors, Procore and Dumont Jets, team owner, everyone on the team, it took every one of those people to say yes because my path to get here is unorthodox. I didn’t have the funding to get there; we did it the old school way.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “I just drove as hard as I could drive. We restarted 26th and drove back up to fifth with no cautions. We had a very, very fast car. It was a strategy we decided to play out there to optimize stage points and get a stage win, and take the guaranteed points. It may have cost us a shot at victory, but we still had a good day. I think at the time we decided to do that strategy the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) was better than us, but I am not so sure at the end.”

Kevin Harvick – finished sixth: “We did grind one out. We didn’t have a great car this weekend. We aborted everything that we were doing and put (Clint Bowyer‘s setup) in and we still weren’t very good. We wound up grinding the right front tire off at the end and was just hanging on for dear life. That is a gritty performance. That is what we have done all year. We need to figure out how to be closer at the beginning of the weekend. We will. We have been scrapping pretty hard for 16 weeks.”

Ryan Newman – finished seventh: “I just got really light-headed when I got out. Other than that I feel alright. We had good strategy and good pit road, good everything. We just didn’t quite have the speed today to be able to get up there and pass those guys that were in the front today.”

Erik Jones – finished eighth: “It was good. We passed a lot of cars. I am just happy we were able to come out of here with a solid day. Wish we could have gotten some more stage points, but it was nice to get a good finish. The Craftsman Camry was good; we just needed track position. I think we were probably a few spots better than that, but it’s still good. It’s nice to get back on track. Hopefully this is good momentum for next week in Chicago.”

Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “I made a mistake there at the top of Turn 3A and spun out and basically we fell to the rear. We went back all the way to last. After that, I just had to work my butt off to recover. We passed a lot of cars today. My Mustang was good. I just put us behind.”

Kyle Larson – finished 10th: “It was better than normal for us. I fell back early but I was just taking care of my stuff. I seem to be a lot better on long runs than normal, so I’m happy about that. And we came away with a top 10. So it was good.

“I finished better than I ever have here, so it was an improvement.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 11th: “That was disappointing, for sure. We had a bad break with the air gun and that put us on a strategy that kind of killed our chances at getting stage points. It looked like we were going to have a shot at the top five, but we just couldn’t get our car to turn there at the end and gave up a lot of positions. We had a good Rush Truck Centers Mustang all weekend and expected a lot better finish.”

Alex Bowman – finished 14th: “We lost some front turn from where we were at in practice. Track position was really key. Obviously, we didn’t qualify very well, so that hurt us. We had great pit stops. We were sitting pretty good there towards the end and then we lost power steering. I hate losing spots like that at the end, but I’m glad we still brought home a top-15 finish. I’m glad I’ve been working on being more fit because I’m worn out and that would have been way worse.”

Daniel Hemric – finished 15th: “I thought we did a great job of making the most of our day here at Sonoma Raceway. We didn’t have track position to start the race, but (crew chief) Luke Lambert did a great job of not worrying about points and trying to get us track position instead. Every time we did it we gained four or five spots. I’m proud of everyone on this No. 8 team and this Poppy Bank Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for sticking with me all weekend. We got better every lap and that’s what our first road race as a group is all about.

Daniel Suarez – finished 17th: “We had a good Ruckus Mustang today even though we had to start in the back. My crew did great with the calls, and we were able to get track position and show that we had a good car. Unfortunately, mistakes on the last pit stop bit us and we couldn’t recover from it so late in the race.”

Austin Dillon – finished 24th: “It’s been a long weekend in the Dow Coatings Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but the good news is we learned a lot that we can take back to Welcome, (North Carolin) and use in preparation for future trips to Sonoma Raceway. We fell behind in practice and just never recovered. During the race, I was just hanging on the best I could but it was difficult because the Dow Coatings Chevrolet was plowing tight. Who knows, maybe if we would have utilized a different strategy we could have gained a few positions at the finish, but the main issue is definitely working on our cars and on my skills as a road course racer.

Ty Dillon – finished 27th: “Sonoma is a tough racetrack. Only coming here once a year definitely makes it more challenging to learn how to get around the course, and this was only my third time racing here. The addition of the Carousel added an extra layer of difficulty. Our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 started out pretty tight going both right and left, but my team made great changes to get our balance back to where we needed it. My rear grip just started to fade at the end. But, I have a lot of notes from this weekend to study for next year. We will keep building and getting better each time we come to Sonoma.”

Chase Elliott – finished 37th: “We lost oil pressure so we think a belt broke. We’re not exactly sure why. Our NAPA Chevy was good. I hated I gave Martin (Truex Jr.) the lead there. It was just a mistake on my part. I needed to keep control of the reins. That was an important point. It’s going to be hard to go up and pass a guy for the lead. So, that was big. I hated that happened.”

 

Clint Bowyer hopes to ride ‘wave of confidence’ to second Sonoma win

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When thinking of exceptional road course drivers currently in the Cup Series, who is the first driver to come to your mind?

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch may pop in your head. But who is next?

How about Clint Bowyer?

Bowyer only has one road course win in his Cup career – at Sonoma in 2012 – but he’s consistently been up front when the series ventured to the California road course.

Through 13 starts, Bower is the active leader at Sonoma in top fives (eight) and top 10s (10).

He also holds the best average finish of 10th. In three of the last four visits to the track Bowyer has placed in the top three.

“For the last several years, I have looked at that track to be the go-to track,” Bowyer said in a media release. “Since the Car of Tomorrow, it really woke up certain tracks, and Sonoma and these road courses have been some of our best products of racing. I think that is a fact. It is an opinion, but it is pretty damn close to factual.”

Despite finishing 35th at Michigan due to a crash, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver says his team has a “wave of confidence going at the moment.” Bowyer will try to ride that wave to the first win of the year for both himself and SHR.

But what could temper Bowyer’s confidence this weekend?

The Carousel.

For the first time since 1997, the Cup Series will compete on Sonoma’s original layout, which includes a sweeping downhill corner that goes from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 to the facility’s longest straightaway before reaching the Turn 7 hairpin.

“I’m a little bit torn on this,” Bowyer said of the layout change. “I was surprised they added The Carousel back to the layout. I’m kind of old-fashioned and thought, you know, if it isn’t broke, why fix it, why touch it? And I didn’t think that track was broke at all. I think the tire and stuff has gotten a little bit too good for a track like that, but I always have thought it’s been a great product for our sport.”

Bowyer has learned tires are everything at Sonoma, as well as getting “yourself right” for the challenge of a road course.

“Mental attitude is everything,” Bowyer said. “You have to manage that racetrack, that race car, and manage traffic, make no mistakes, hit your marks, go easy on your throttle and brake pedals. You really have to take care of those four Goodyear tires because those are what will take you to victory lane if you take care of them.”

While Bowyer sees Sonoma as a prime opportunity for him, he also views the road course as the start of the important summer stretch that leads to the playoffs.

“It’s that time of year when you start looking at the standings and seeing where you need to be to make the playoffs,” said Bowyer, who is 12th in the standings. “Plus, you really want to be on a roll when the playoffs start in September. It all begins Sunday in Sonoma.”

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NASCAR America: Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto run well in the pack

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While most eyes are focused at the front of the pack, some incredible performances often go unnoticed outside of the top 10. On Tuesday, NASCAR America showcased three drivers who had outstanding runs in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

“I’m going to go with Chris Buescher and his 12th-place finish,” Landon Cassill said. “I thought he had a solid day. You know, his teammate is AJ Allmendinger … is an animal at these road courses, but Chris just put together a solid day and he’s a good driver at Sonoma. I worked with Chris when we both drove for Front Row Motorsports and I can tell you that I’m pretty sure he still holds the record in the Ford simulator for the fastest lap at Sonoma. … I used to use his car as a Chase car in the sim to help my laps at Sonoma.”

That was Buescher’s third consecutive top 20 on a road course and it comes on the heels of an 11th last August at Watkins Glen International.

Matt DiBenedetto has never been known as a road racer. In six previous starts on this type of track, he had never cracked the top 20 – until Sunday’s race at Sonoma when he scored a career-best 17th.

“My ‘Running with the Pack’ guy’s also not a road course guy: Matt DiBenedetto finished 17th at Sonoma after starting 30th and that is the ninth time in 16 races that he’s outperformed where he qualified,” Nate Ryan said. “I think that’s significant, I think that tells you how good GoFas Racing is, making the most of what they have.”

Dale Jarrett went a little deeper in the field.

“I’m going with somebody, who his team has only ran their seventh race at Sonoma and that’s our colleague Parker Kligerman. … He’s an outstanding road racer. He has that background, but he’s a good racer everywhere he goes. He ran inside the top 20 most of the day.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Breaking down Cole Pearn’s ‘fake’ pit call at Sonoma

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It was the pit call that surprised the NASCAR world and put a wrench in the plans of Kevin Harvick‘s team Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

After multiple laps of telling Martin Truex Jr. to pit on Lap 73 and with his pit crew waiting on the pit wall, crew chief Cole Pearn told his driver not to pit at the last moment, as race leader Harvick committed to pit road.

It resulted in Truex pitting eight laps later, giving him fresher tires to catch and pass Harvick and the other leaders to earn the win.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed how such a move worked.

“The best way to fool with your pit crew is fool everyone,” Letarte said. “Tell everyone you’re going to come to pit road, even your own driver Martin Truex Jr. and it really came down to this: If you pit with 38, 39 laps to go, you’re going to have to come and get one more pit stop, one more splash of gas or some tires. That was the question: who was going to do what?”

Truex said after the race he was going to do whatever Pearn told him to do. Letarte said that kind of trust is essential if Furniture Row Racing wants a second championship.

“There’s not enough time in these races to have explanations,” Letarte said. “You heard what Martin Truex Jr. had to say, it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I give a direct answer and I’m off the radio, back to driving the race car. He says ‘pit,’ I’m going to pit. He’s says ‘we’re not pitting’, I just stay on the race track. Blind belief in that person on top of the pit pox, that is what must happen for a team to go win a championship.”

Watch the videos above and below for more.

Rodney Childers able to joke about Cole Pearn’s winning pit strategy

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Most of the questions coming out of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma had to do with the abrupt change in pit strategy by Furniture Row Racing that delivered Martin Truex Jr. a victory and snatched away Kevin Harvick‘s shot at his sixth win of the year.

Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, seemingly got snookered when Cole Pearn told Truex not to pit at the last moment on Lap 73 before Harvick and teammate Clint Bowyer pitted. Fresh tires from pitting eight laps later allowed Truex to retake the lead and win.

Though he apologized to his team after the checkered flag, Childers was in good spirits soon after. Fox Sports’ Jamie Little posted a video on Twitter showing the two crew chiefs talking and laughing in Victory Lane, with Pearn overheard saying “I’m sorry.”

Early on Monday, Childers responded to the video, noting his respect for the No. 78 team and joking about getting outsmarted.

“And at least @colepearn told me he was sorry,” Childers said. “That was kinda like sending your friend down the wrong haunted trail at Halloween.”

Pearn was asked about Childers’ visit to Victory Lane and where their relationship stands.

“We have a great relationship I feel like,” Pearn said. “I respect him a lot, and I feel like he does the same. Him and Martin worked together back at (Michael Waltrip Racing), so they’re good friends. At the end of the day, we’re playing a game … he’s a good guy, and I think it’s kind of cool for him to do that. … I always try and congratulate them when they win, and he always does it when we win. Like I said, we’ve raced against each other now for ‑‑ as long as I’ve been a crew chief, we’ve battled them a lot of weeks, and they’re a great race team, make us better.  I think that was cool.”