Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The second half of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season rolls on as the West Coast comes calling this weekend, with Sonoma Raceway playing host to Sunday’s running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

A 12-turn technical road course situated about 30 miles north of San Francisco, Sonoma is one of six road courses on the 2022 schedule, with Sonoma first joining the circuit back in 1989.

Over the years, the course at Sonoma Raceway has gone through a few configuration changes. When the track was first placed on the schedule as a replacement for the now-defunct Riverside International Raceway, the layout included a 2.52-mile course that used the drag strip as part of the course.

However, in 1998, the track went through its first major reconfiguration, with an 890-foot chute placed between Turns 4 and 7, cutting off the “Carousel” section of the track and dropping the track length down to 1.949 miles. The track went through a final reconfiguration in 2001 with the installation of Turn 7a, which brought the track to a 1.990 mile, 12-turn layout that was in place through 2018.

In a throwback to the track’s early days, Sonoma reverted back to the original layout in 2019, with the reintroduction of the Carousel, but after a two-year experiment, the chute layout returns for this year’s return to California wine country.

“We heard from many fans and drivers how much they loved it when we raced the Chute,” said Sonoma Raceway EVP and General Manager Jill Gregory. “The Carousel was part of the original course and we reverted back to it for our 50th Anniversary in 2019 and used it again in 2021. But we race to bring excitement and drama to the fans, and an overwhelming majority of them asked us to bring back the Chute.”

By the Numbers

What: Toyota Save Mart 350, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 16 of 36

Where: Sonoma Raceway – Sonoma, California (First Race: 1989)

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 4:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  1.990 mile, 12-turn road course

Race Length: 110 laps, 218.9 miles

Stage Lengths: First stage – 25 laps each; Second stage – 30 laps; Final Stage – 55 laps

2021 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started on pole, 57 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Larson – (74.186 seconds, 96.568 mph – 6/27/2015)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Sonoma Raceway:

  1. Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 105.3
  2. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 98.1
  3. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 96.0
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.8
  5. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 93.2
  6. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 92.4
  7. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 85.2
  8. AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 84.0
  9. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 83.9
  10. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 80.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“I think COTA (Circuit of the Americas) was a good race and put on a good show for everybody,” said Erik Jones. “Hopefully the new car does the same thing in Sonoma. I’m glad we are going back to the old configuration for this weekend at Sonoma. I wasn’t a huge fan of the carousal. I think it made racing a bit tougher and more challenging to pass here and there.

“So, I’m happy to go back to the old configuration again. You’ll be driving hard. This car is better on road courses, so you have to drive harder. I think it’ll be just as race-y as we’ve seen, probably a bit better going back to the old layout.”

Last Time at Sonoma

Kyle Larson looked to be on a Sunday drive last year at Sonoma, but a flurry of late cautions over the course of the final 20 laps, allowed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr to keep the pressure on.

Pushed to overtime when a four-car crash brought out the caution with two laps to go, it became a battle between the teammates down the stretch. Elliott was a steady sight in Larson’s rear-view mirror throughout the two-lap shootout to the finish, but in the end, Larson was just too strong, bringing home the trophy at his home track.

“It was not easy,” Larson said. “Any road course isn’t easy, just trying to keep it on track is tough; especially when you’ve got two of the best behind you on the last restart, Chase (Elliott) and Martin (Truex, Jr.). I felt like I did a good job at the one before and stretched it out a little bit and didn’t want to give him another try at it, but he kept the pressure on. Martin was strong too, but what a car.

“This Chevy, thank you Mr. Hendrick. The is unbelievable. I thought I would be okay today, but I just didn’t know how I would race. I don’t think of us really do with no practice. But our car was really good there and I can’t say enough about it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, June 11

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (4:30 pm – FOX Sports 2)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (5:30 pm – FOX Sports 2)

Sunday, June 12

  • Toyota Save Mart 350 (4:00 pm – 110 laps, 218.9 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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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.