Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

MORGAN: Five Takeaways from the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway marked the first road course of the season for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the 1.990-mile track located north of San Francisco certainly did not disappoint. Leaving Sonoma, here are five of the top storylines of the day.

Harvick Checks Another Track off the List

Starting the season, Kevin Harvick had just four tracks that he had not yet won at: Kentucky, Pocono, Sonoma, and Texas. After Sunday’s race, Harvick took that list down to three, checking Sonoma off the list with his first win of the season and completing the sweep of tracks in his native California.

Having not won a race yet in 2017 entering Sunday’s race, many were wondering when Harvick would finally win, as he hadn’t gone this far into the season without winning a race since he was still driving for Richard Childress Racing in 2012. But on Sunday, he silenced all the doubters by leading the final 24 laps en route to the win.

“It means a ton,” said Harvick. “To finally check this one off the list. I feel like we have been close a couple times but never put it all together. Being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list and today we were able to check that box.”

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Keeps the Momentum Going

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has never been shy about his disdain for the road courses on the circuit and given his past history at them, who would blame him? However, as Earnhardt made his final start at Sonoma on Sunday, he continued a string of top-11 finishes dating back to 2014, allowing him to end his run at the track on a high note.

Earnhardt finished a career-high third in 2014 and followed that up with finishes of seventh and 11th heading into Sunday’s race.

After starting 10th, Earnhardt’s race wasn’t all smooth sailing, as he went for a spin in Stage 1 while battling Danica Patrick entering Turn 11 and would finish the first stage in 36th place. He would rebound up to sixth place at the end of Stage 2 and stayed out on track to start the final stage in second.

Though his older tires became a disadvantage in the long run, Earnhardt maintained a top-10 position before making a pit stop with 42 laps to go and again with 15 laps to go, driving back up to sixth place when the checkered flag flew, giving him a second straight top-10 finish this season and providing him with some much needed momentum heading to Daytona next week.

Trouble on the Horizon for Kyle Busch?

Already having to go to the racetrack with an interim crew chief as Adam Stevens is still serving his four race suspension for losing a wheel at Dover, Kyle Busch may have to look for another substitute crew chief next weekend at Daytona if NASCAR precedent holds true.

Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was found to have two lugnuts missing after finishing fifth in Sunday’s race, which according to the rulebook, should bring a one race suspension and a $20,000 fine for interim crew chief Ben Beshore.

NASCAR normally announces penalties on Tuesday or Wednesday, so we’ll see then if Busch will have his third crew chief of the season.

In the meantime, Busch is keeping a sense of humor about the whole thing and let it show after the race on Twitter.

Promising Start Goes Awry for Danica Patrick

Starting the day with her best qualifying effort of the season, Danica Patrick looked to have a promising race ahead of her starting sixth when the green flag flew. However, the bad luck that has followed Patrick throughout the season followed her out to the west coast as well.

While battling with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in Stage 1, Earnhardt spun out under braking entering Turn 11, skidding across the pavement on the inside of the hairpin turn and sliding right out in front of Patrick’s Ford, where the two made contact and she would sustain some front-end damage.

After repairs, Patrick would finish Stage 1 in 37th. Stage 2 would not be any better for the No. 10 team as Patrick would get the bad end of a three-wide move by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Larson in Turn 4 on lap 30. The contact sent Patrick for a spin and she was then hit by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., causing more damage to her car.

Though her team was able to make repairs, Patrick did her best to just survive the remainder of the day, coming home in 17th place.

“It definitely wasn’t the day the Code 3 Associates team was expecting, but we were able to battle back to a decent finish,” said Patrick. “The car was just awful in the final laps of the last two runs, but we made the most of it at the end.”

Kasey Kahne’s Hard Hit

In a season where he has just three finishes inside the top-10 and had not finished better than 15th in the last five weeks, Kasey Kahne needed his luck to turn around at Sonoma, but unfortunately for Kahne, things didn’t work out that way.

Kahne cracked the top-10 just once all day after starting in 21st and was running in 24th on the last lap when contact between his car and that of Kevin O’Connell sent him hard into the concrete barriers lining the track just past the start/finish line.

The impact with the wall would cause heavy damage to the right front of Kahne’s car and pushed the wall back several feet. Luckily, Kahne was able to climb from his car on his own power and would be OK, but the hit was the last thing Kahne needed this season as rumors continue to swirl about his future with the team for 2018 and beyond.

“It was a hard hit,” said Kahne. “No. 15 no clue who he is, I saw him a lot today lapping him, but he went low down the front stretch and then just, I was going to his outside and he just turned right and just hit me, put me straight in the wall getting the white flag there. No clue what he was thinking. You obviously don’t know what he’s doing either. But we had a better car the longer the day went. Just really tight early and the guys kept working on it and we got better and better. I have no clue where we were running, but we were definitely much better at the end than we were at the start and passed some cars later on.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.