After an impressive start to the season for the 2016 rookie class, all eyes were on Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma as it served as the first road course race of the season and would be a tough test for the rookies to continue their streak of strong finishes.
As it has for rookies throughout the years, Sonoma was the source of many struggles for the 2016 rookie class on Sunday, with none of the four rookies finishing inside the top-20.
Coming out on top of the rookies once again was Chase Elliott, who brought his No. 24 car home in 21st place for his worst finish since finishing 38th at Las Vegas in the third race of the season. Elliott had run the K&N Pro Series West race on Saturday in an effort to get some additional track time and excelled in that race, starting on pole and winning the race, giving him hope that he could run just as well on Sunday.
However, that was not to be for Elliott, as he started 16th and ran inside the top-20 for most of the race, even cracking the top-10 at one point in the race as pit stops cycled through, but on the final green flag run dropped outside the top-20 to his eventual finishing place of 21st.
With Elliott finishing 21st, his fellow rookies weren’t far behind and his closest contender in the rookie of the year race, Ryan Blaney, was just two positions behind in 23rd at the finish. Blaney struggled in qualifying with a 26th place start and unlike Elliott had no additional track time during the weekend to get a handle on the tricky Sonoma road course, making Sunday’s race a tough one for the first year driver for Wood Brothers Racing.
From his 26th place start, Blaney fell as far back as 38th early in the going, but rebounded into the top-10 by the midpoint of the race during a round of green flag pit stops. As the laps wound down, Blaney looked to be holding steady inside the top-20, but fell back to his eventual finishing place of 23rd by the time the checkered flag flew. Blaney’s 23rd place finish marks his worst finish since a 28th place run at Richmond back in April.
“Early on we short pitted and got some track position. It was a long day. We had some good fortune but I gave all the spots right back,” said Blaney.
As for the other two rookies in the race, Chris Buescher and Brian Scott, they didn’t fare any better than Elliott and Blaney did on the day. Buescher started 36th and came home in 30th, while Scott started 22nd, but gradually fell back through the field as the race progressed to finish in 33rd.