SONOMA, Cali. – For the first time in 2019, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be turning left AND right this weekend. The site of the race is Sonoma Raceway in the Wine Country of California and the action never disappoints.
Sliding to the left and sliding to the right is how the drivers get the job done around the 2.52-mile multi-terrain road course. A mere 90 laps is the distance, meaning there’s not time to wait to get the win.
Defending winner Martin Truex, Jr. comes back with a different team in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. While new, the former champion has already shown he’s capable of continuing his winning ways by doing it three times already in 2019.
At Sonoma, he won last year and in 2013. In the last four races here, he has two top-five finishes and two of 37th or worse. Of the 154 laps led, 87 of them came in the last two races.
Is he one to watch this weekend? You betcha. However, there has been an additional twist to this year’s race as they are now including “The Carousel” back into the mix, which hasn’t been used by NASCAR teams since 1997. This will put all teams on a more level basis and could change the face of the race.
“It’s going to be a game charger,’’ Truex said. “We’ll have a fast, left-hand turn that we’ve never had there before. In the past, you focused on turning right and kind of threw the left-hand turns away. I don’t think any current driver has ran on this course, so it’s kind of starting from scratch for everyone.
“I have it embedded in my mind the track we have ran and what we’ve been doing for as long as I’ve raced there. On the old layout, I feel like I could go there and get 99 percent out of my car on Lap 1. Now you throw in the different turns and I might just get lost and fly on by the turn into the carousel.
“It’s going to be fun to try to figure it out.”
Joey Logano has returned to the top of the series’ points chart leading Kyle Busch by just nine markers. Logano is coming off the one-weekend break as the current race winner with his victory in Michigan. He is winless at Sonoma and has led only 18-career laps here.
Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are seeking success at Sonoma
Statistically speaking, Kurt Busch is one to watch owning the top spot in six key categories tabulated by Loop Data since 2005. He tops in the Driving Rating and Average Running Position, Laps in the Top-15 and Laps Led. Data from the Quality Passes and Fastest Laps Run shows he ranks second and third, respectively.
Those are nice on paper, but the reason everyone goes there is for one reason – to win – which he did at Sonoma in 2006.
And, that is exactly what Harvick is looking for this year as he’s still winless on the 2019 season. He earned a win in 2017 in the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford and has nine top-10 finishes in 18 starts, and was sixth or better in the last four Sonoma starts.
He was runner-up last year to Truex leading 35 laps. Despite the lack of wins, Harvick is only two points behind Brad Keselowski’s third-place ranking.
Harvick’s SHR teammate Bowyer comes to town as one of only six current drivers with a previous win at Sonoma. He scored his victory in 2012 and has a series-best eight top-five finishes and is tied with Kurt Busch for most top-10 finishes at 10.
Bowyer has finished among the top-three in three of the last four Sonoma races – including a third-place finish in 2015, runner-up in 2017 and third place last year. As the season enters the summer stretch, he knows what it takes to come out successful.
“The summer stretch is everything and, looking back at our season last year, we’ve got to get better at it,’’ Bowyer said. “Everybody asks, ‘How are you going to improve from last year?’ And I say it’s that late-summer stretch.
“We started off great last year and then tapered off in the summer. We have to avoid that this year. You have to get on a roll.”
Race time is 3 p.m. Sunday on FS1. Of significance, this will be the swan song for driver-turned-broadcaster Darrell Waltrip as he covers his final race from the booth. The TV coverage switches over to NBC Sports for the remainder of the year.
Xfinity is off, Trucks go to Gateway
With the NASCAR Xfinity Series off this weekend, the focus falls on the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Series. And, after last week’s exciting and news-making race at Iowa Speedway, fans are liable to tune in with more interest than usual.
First, the driver who took the checkered flag didn’t end up with the win. Ross Chastain was first across, went to Victory Lane, did the TV interview and was all smiles.
Those quickly faded when NASCAR officials deemed the front end of his Chevrolet Silverado was way too low in post-race inspection. Thus, the win was awarded to Brett Moffitt later in the day.
Second, contact during the race between Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter sent Sauter spinning into the outside wall. Under caution, he used his No. 13 Truck to show is displeasure spinning Hill out and causing damage. Sauter was immediately parked and later in the week NASCAR handed him a one-race suspension.
As far as what to expect from this weekend’s race, the newly-named World Wide Technologies Raceway at Gateway doesn’t disappoint for action. That race can be seen at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.
The winner of the race gets an extra $50,000 as part of the Triple Truck Challenge currently taking place. Greg Biffle won the first one, Brett Moffitt the second and if he wins again…another $50,000 is paid and the team gets $150,000 with half going to the crew.
- Bye DW, and good riddance to “Boggity Boggity Boogity, Let’s go racing boys!” Darrell Waltrip has been good for the sport on and off the track, I’m not going to deny that aspect. However, with this being his last race, if I never ever hear that phrase again, it would make me happier than a bowl of Perry’s Butter Brickle ice cream
- Road Courses rock. Not one of my favorites when I first started to follow the sport, the driver skills and how they battle for positions around the track are great to watch. And, there is always someone REALLY pissed off when it ends.
- Truck action is going to be good. The 1.25-mile track and 160 laps provide plenty of time to see what unfolds this week. Ross Chastain is certainly looking to redeem himself after last week, and who doesn’t like to see a watermelon get smashed in Victory Lane when he wins.
- Local guy look. Yep, we’re going to talk about NYS favorite Stewart Friesen again. He pulled off a top-five finish last week to keep him solid in the points. He won this past week on the Dirt, which always bolsters his confidence.
- Packman’s Picks – I’m going with Harvick for the win at Sonoma and Friesen to finally get the win at Gateway