Toyota / Save Mart 350

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.”

Cole Pearn called Sonoma race win with treehouse injury

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Cole Pearn was working wounded Sunday when he called Martin Truex Jr.’s winning run at Sonoma Raceway.

The crew chief for the No. 78 Toyota had a gash on the right side of his forehead, one so noticeable he was asked about it after the race (you can see it in the video interview above).

“I wish I was fighting a bear or a cougar or something cool, but my wife (Carrie) has been on me about building this treehouse for our kids,” Pearn said. “I wanted nothing to do with it, but we were fortunate with the West Coast race we were able to fly out Friday morning, so I actually like had somewhat of a day off on Thursday, and I decided to get involved.

Pearn said the treehouse had been “screwed up a bit” during the first attempt at construction. After tearing it down, he and his wife were in the process of resetting a 4×4 corner post.

“I thought my wife had it and she didn’t, and I walked away to get a clamp and she yelled my name and I turned right into it and basically got KO’d by it,” Pearn said. “But yeah, it went right down to my skull, bled a lot, and had to get stitched on the inside, then on the outside.  Was back in about an hour, and I worked until about 9 Thursday night and I finished the stupid thing, so I’m glad it’s done.”

Joe Garone, Furniture Row Racing’s president, joked Pearn’s race-winning strategy that tricked Kevin Harvick’s team was a result of the incident.

“He probably wouldn’t have made that call if he wouldn’t have been hit in the head,” Garone said.

Chase Elliott leads drivers with career-best days at Sonoma

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Chase Elliott said his third Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, which ended with a career-best fourth-place finish at the road course, was a “lot more fun” than his first two trips.

Elliott, who also started a career-best third, earned his second top 10 and first top-five finish at the track.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver was one of four who placed in the top 10 for career-best finishes in Sunday’s race at the road course. The others were Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman.

“I made a lot of gains, personally, I think, for me at this track,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “It’s been one of my worst.”

Elliott started and finished eighth in the race last year. He placed 21st his rookie season.

On Sunday, he positioned his No. 9 Chevrolet to finish Stage 1 in fourth and Stage 2 in second.

He was running second late in the final stage until Kevin Harvick and his fresher set of tires passed him with nine laps to go. Elliott was later passed by Clint Bowyer.

“To come here and have pace on Friday and qualify good on Saturday, and to have pace today, it was just a lot more fun,” Elliott said. “We had a fast Chevrolet all three days. And that’s nice to show up and get rhythm. We kind of had to pick our battles today. We elected to get some stage points and that set us back a little for that last stage, but I don’t think we had the pace that the leaders had.”

Elliott’s result was his fourth top five this season and his first in six races.

In his second Sonoma start, Jones started 20th and finished seventh, a significant improvement over his 25th-place finish from his rookie year.

The result came after his No. 20 Toyota suffered minor damage from contact with Michael McDowell at the beginning of Stage 1.

“It was a great day for us, really,” Jones told FS1. “I felt like it’s a little like a win for us. We were aiming for a top 15 today and to get a top 10 is just a bonus.

The result is Jones’ second top 10 in the last nine races.

Behind Jones was Almirola, who earned his first top-10 finish in seven Sonoma starts. His previous best result was 14th in 2015.

“We are just plugging away,” Almirola said. “As solid as they come. We are a top-10 car and this just goes to show me and all of our guys that we are a top-10 car everywhere. I have just run top 10 at my two career worst race tracks, Pocono (seventh) and Sonoma. If we can do that, that is incredible.”

Almirola, who helped put all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top 10 for the second time this year, has earned career-best results at five tracks this season: Sonoma, Pocono, Phoenix (seventh), Las Vegas (10th) and Michigan (11th).

“It speaks true volumes about how great this race team is and how great our race cars are because they carry me at those two places where I know I struggle,” Almirola said. “I have tried really hard to become a better road course racer and I put a lot of effort into this weekend running the K&N (West) car to help me for today and it certainly did.”

Almirola placed second in Saturday’s K&N West race.

Another driver who pulled double duty this weekend was Bowman.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver placed ninth for his first Sonoma top 10 in three starts. He previous results were 29th and 31st.

“(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) made a good call on the box to I guess one (pit) stop that (in the final stage),” Bowman said. “It looked like some people two stopped it, but I don’t know, I still don’t feel like I do a very good job at these places, but I feel like I learned some today.  Definitely made some mistakes and there is plenty I can improve on to keep getting better and learning. That is all we can really ask for.”