The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to wine country for their first road course event of the 2019 season. It’s 1 of 3 three again. Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET/FS1/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is always must see action and this weekend’s race shouldn’t be any different.
How To Tune In
Coverage – 3 p.m. ET
Green Flag – 3:13 p.m. ET
TV – FS1
Radio – PRN
Distance – 90 Laps/226.8 Miles
Defending Race Winner – Martin Truex Jr.
Kevin Harvick ahead of Martin Truex Jr. in practice at Sonoma on Friday
We saw this last year when Martin Truex Jr. faked out Kevin Harvick on a pit sequence. That will be a common theme again this year as pit strategy will be the biggest key for this race on Sunday. Do you short pit and go on one more stop than some but have better tire life and quicker speeds, or do you go on a long stint but know you’ll compromise speed for less stops on pit road? Do you get caught out by a caution in doing that too?
There are a number of pit strategies that teams will play in this one.
5 Straight Different Winners
Heading into last year, we had a different winner for several years. But, Truex’s win ended that. Now, we have five straight years with a different victor in Sonoma. Furthermore, 10 of the last 12 years have seen a new face in victory lane. The only repeat winners since 2007 have been Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Will we see another new winner on Sunday?
Toyota Drivers The Ones To Beat
Toyota has had the best speed this season. Combined, they’ve won nine of the 15 races in 2019. What if I told you in Sonoma that they’ve won four of the last seven there too? This could be another Toyota show on Sunday. They have three of the top eight starting spots.
Can Chevy Drivers Get 2nd Win Of 2019?
Chevrolet hasn’t had much success in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lately. They’ve reached victory lane just once in the 15 races run this season. In fact, they’ve been shut out in each of the other 18 Cup Series races run, dating back to last season. Over the last 29 Cup races, they’ve reached victory lane just three times.
Furthermore, since the start of the 2018 season, the year in which Chevrolet debuted the Camaro, they’ve won five times overall. Chase Elliott has won four of those five, including all coming in-a-row. With Chevy only scoring one win at the Sonoma Raceway since 2011, is Elliott their best chance? He starts fourth.
He has Chevy’s lone win of 2019 and since that victory in April at Talladega, he’s finished in the top five every week with the exception of one. He’s improved each year at Sonoma too. He went from 21st as a rookie in 2016 to eighth in 2017. Last year, he improved from eighth in 2017 to fourth on the northern California road course.
Trends say he can win Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
So can some of his teammates too. Alex Bowman finished ninth in his No. 88 Chevrolet last year and was sixth and eighth respectively in practice. He even qualified 12th. Jimmie Johnson had seven straight top 10 finishes at this track from 2009 through 2015 and was 13th, 13th and 11th respectively since. He will start 11th. William Byron finished 25th as a rookie last year but he’s driving much better now. He starts second.
You also can’t count out the Chip Ganassi Racing duo either. Kurt Busch won this race in 2011 and has finished in the top 12 ever since too. He has six top seven finishes in his last eight Sonoma starts.
His teammate Kyle Larson has qualified really well in Sonoma but his finishes haven’t been there. Larson, has started in the top five in each of his six Sonoma starts now including a pole in each of the last three years. But, his finishes are just 28th, 15th, 12th, 26th and 14th respectively. Can he remain up front this weekend?
Toyota may have won four of the last seven races in Sonoma to go along with nine races already this year, but don’t discredit these six Chevy’s this weekend either.
Penske Could Struggle, SHR Eyeing More Success But Not Looking The Part
Could this be the week that Stewart-Haas Racing comes out of their slump? They’ve only reached victory lane just three times over the last 12 months in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But, Sonoma could be just what the doctor ordered. This is a completely different discipline than that for what we’ve raced with all season. Any past struggles through the first 15 races are irrelevant this weekend.
Also, In Sonoma, SHR has shined.
Kevin Harvick has four straight top six finishes on the northern California road course including a win in 2017 and a runner-up result just last year. But, he’s struggled a bit this weekend. Harvick, was only 23rd and 22nd respectively in practice and qualified just 23rd too.
Aric Almirola has never been great on road courses but he finished eighth in his No. 10 Ford in last year’s race. He was third fast in final practice on Friday though and will start 15th.
Daniel Suarez was only 16th and 15th respectively with Joe Gibbs Racing but now that he’s with SHR, he has a shot. He qualified fifth. Clint Bowyer won this race in 2016, finished third last year and has five top 10 finishes in his last eight years. He was seventh and fourth respectively in practice on Friday but will start just 14th.
This could be their opportunity to get their first win in 2019 but so far, they don’t look the part.
One team though that may struggled is that of Team Penske. Brad Keselowski has just one top five finish in nine career Sonoma starts. That came via a third place finish in 2017. His second best wine country finish is 10th. He was only 19th in both practice sessions on Friday and qualified only 22nd too.
Ryan Blaney has never finished in the top five in Sonoma and has a best result of ninth which also came in 2017 too. His other two finishes are 23rd (2016) and 34th (2018) respectively. He may be their best shot though as he won on the ROVAL in Charlotte last October and was second and 10th respectively in practice on Friday. He rolls off ninth.
That leaves just Joey Logano who has two top five finishes in his career at Sonoma too. Both, have come in the last four years but half of his 10 career Sonoma starts have seen him finish 12th or worse. He was just 12th and 13th respectively in practice on Friday himself but did qualify third though.
This weekend and two weeks from now in Daytona can shake up the playoff standings drastically. Currently, only six different drivers have won in 2019. That leaves 10 wildcard spots available. But, with a road course and a superspeedway being two of the next three races on the season, we could definitely see a new winner coming soon.
What if it’s a longshot winner? That takes a playoff spot away from someone if so. That’s why the next three weeks will say a lot for who makes the playoffs. The bottom of the playoff standings are so tight and two wildcard races and bad luck in them could sway who get in and who doesn’t come September.
Last Race On Fox Sports For The Year
Sonoma is the 16th and final race of Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR in 2019. The rest of the season goes to NBC Sports starting next week in Chicagoland. That means this is Darrell Waltrip’s last race as a commentator in NASCAR.
Martin Truex Jr. (+450)
He has a really good race car. Truex, was quickest in the first practice and 12th in the final one on Friday afternoon in wine country. He’s the defending race winner and has three top five finishes in his last six Sonoma starts. Granted, those are his only top 10’s in that time frame too though.
Kyle Busch (+550)
He was only eighth and 16th respectively in practice on Friday but Busch has two straight fifth place finishes at Sonoma and a win in 2015. His worst finish in that time frame is 7th (2016). On the year, Busch has scored three straight top five finishes including a fifth place run last week in Michigan.
Clint Bowyer (+600)
Seems stiff for a driver without a win this season, but Bowyer has been good at Sonoma in the past (five top 10’s in his last eight starts) and was quick this weekend too (7th, 4th in practice). He won this race in 2012 and was third last year. Also, Bowyer has three top 10 finishes in his last four races on the season to go along with seven top 10’s in his last 10 starts overall.
Chase Elliott (+600)
He’s a hard one to figure out. Elliott, was only 20th and 11th respectively in practice but qualified fourth. Also at Sonoma, he’s consistently improved his finish by the year. He went from 21st (2016) to eighth (2017) to fourth (2018). Heading into this weekend, he has a top five finish in five of his last six starts on the year. Might as well take him.
Ryan Blaney (+2500)
I have to throw him in this list. Blaney, won on the last road course run at the ROVAL in Charlotte last October. While he has one top 10 finish (9th – 2017) in three Sonoma starts, the Team Penske driver was second and 10th respectively in practice on Friday.
Throw Bucks Their Way
Kurt Busch (+1100)
This is a strong track for Busch. He has seven top 10 finishes in his last eight Sonoma starts to go along with being second quickest in final practice. Also, Busch was runner-up in the last race of the season at Michigan, so he brings some momentum with him.
Jimmie Johnson (+2000)
I know he hasn’t been the strongest over the years in Sonoma (13th, 13th, 11th) over his last three starts, but prior to that, the California native had seven straight top 10 finishes including a win in 2010. He was fourth and 15th respectively in practice on Friday to go along with scoring two top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the year.
Alex Bowman (+3000)
This may be the best value pick. Bowman, finished ninth in this race last year. He heads into the weekend with five top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the year including three runner-ups. Bowman, was sixth and eighth respectively in practice.
Aric Almirola (+6000)
He’s not much of a road course racer – hence these odds. But, Almirola finished eighth in this race last year and was third in final practice. While he hasn’t had a top five finish since Phoenix in March, this is a different race track than what we’ve raced on this year.
William Byron (+8000)
Why not here? Byron, was 14th and seventh respectively on single lap runs and has three top 10 finishes in his last five starts on the season. He starts second.
Kevin Harvick (+400)
For these odds, be wary. Yes, Harvick has four straight top six finishes including two consecutive top two’s but on the season, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has just once top five in his last six starts and that was back at Dover in early May. He hasn’t finished better than fourth all season and was only 23rd and 22nd quickest in practice on Friday and only qualified 23rd.
Denny Hamlin (+1300)
He hasn’t had the best car in practice (21st, 17th) but Hamlin has been good at Sonoma over the last few years. His last three finishes are second, fourth and 10th respectively. Where he’s a risky play is, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has scored just one top 10 finish over his last six starts on the season with his last top five coming back at Richmond in late April. He did qualify sixth though.
Kyle Larson (+3000)
The timing sheets show Larson was fastest on the day on Friday. He earned the pole on Sunday. But, don’t let that fool you. Larson, has won the pole the last two years at Sonoma too and has never started worse than fifth. Despite that, he’s also never finished in the top 10 on this track before and has a best finish of 12th in 2016. Also, Larson has just one top five result all year and two top finishes over his last 11 starts on the year.
19 Truex Jr – It’s hard to go against him right now. I know going back-to-back is tough in Sonoma but Truex has nothing to lose and has a fast race car. He gives Toyota their fifth Sonoma win in the last eight years.
88 Bowman – Here’s a shocker but Bowman gets his fourth runner-up since Talladega. He was ninth in this race last year and sixth and eighth respectively in practice. The HMS driver has a top 10 finish in all but one race since late April.
14 Bowyer – The SHR driver comes close to his first victory of the season. Bowyer, was seventh and fourth respectively in practice this weekend to go along with five top 10 finishes in his last eight starts at Sonoma.
12 Blaney – Strategy nearly nets him a win too. Blaney, won on the Charlotte ROVAL last October and was second and 10th respectively in practice. He gets his first top five finish in two months.
18 KyBusch – He finished fifth in the last race of the season in Michigan. He also finished fifth in each of the last two races at Sonoma. He was eighth and 16th respectively in practice this weekend, which is why I don’t have him higher than fifth.