Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After getting to enjoy a much needed week off, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back in business with a little road course racing.

This week, the series makes the trek out to California wine country to take on Sonoma Raceway, a 12-turn technical road course situated about 30 miles north of San Francisco. This week’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 consists of 90 laps, which calculates out to 226.8 miles, or 365 kilometers.

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 in 1989, 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 last year.

In a throwback to the track’s early days, Sonoma is reverting back to the original layout for this year’s race, with the reintroduction of the Carousel. As a result of the return to the 2.52-mile configuration, none of the drivers in the field will have driven on that section of the course in the Cup Series, giving everyone a curveball they will have to adjust to in order to be successful on Sunday.

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, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  2.520 mile, 12-turn road course

Race Length: 90 laps, 365 kilometers (226.8 miles)

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 20 laps each; Final Stage – 50 laps

2018 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started second, 62 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet (74.186 seconds, 96.568 mph – 6/27/2015)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Sonoma Raceway:

  1. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 107.1
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 99.4
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 94.3
  4. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 92.8
  5. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 92.0
  6. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 91.9
  7. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 87.5
  8. Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 85.2
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 83.3
  10. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 82.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“Sonoma is a neat place,” said two-time Sonoma winner, Kyle Busch. “It’s a cool area to go to up into Wine Country. I’ve always enjoyed road-course racing. Even when I was in Legends cars, I would enjoy going up there during the days that I raced there. Now that I’m on the Cup tour, it’s cool to go there every June. It’s a fun racetrack.

“The cars get grouped a lot closer together there than at Watkins Glen, so braking there is a lot tougher getting into turn four, turn seven, and especially turn 11. There are some opportunities in those corners to pass people.

“Forward bite seems to have become an issue as you get going there during the run. And you need to make sure you keep the rear tires underneath you because it’s really easy to burn them babies off when you try and pass somebody. You go to pass somebody and hit the gas and all your rear tires want to do is spin and you can’t get alongside that guy. So, from that respect, Sonoma can be frustrating at times, as well.”

Last Time at Sonoma

Sometimes all it takes is a little luck and a bit of a gamble to end the day in Victory Lane and that’s exactly what happened for Martin Truex, Jr. in this race last season.

With Truex and Kevin Harvick duking it out in the final stage of the race to see who was going to come out on top, Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn made a call for Truex to pit on lap 73. Overhearing the call on the radio, Harvick was ordered to follow suit and pit from the lead in order to keep the two drivers on a level playing field.

When Harvick ducked onto pit road, Pearn advised his driver to stay on track, allowing Truex to take over the lead.

Though he had to surrender the lead himself to pit on lap 81, Truex was able to cycle back to the front when Harvick and teammate Clint Bowyer had to make a second pit stop in the final stage with 18 laps to go, giving him a 23.826 second advantage over his nearest competitor.

All Truex had to do was hope the race stayed green to the end and the victory was his. Luckily, that’s exactly what happened and he was able to take home his second Sonoma win in the process.

Harvick and Bowyer finished second and third, respectively, followed by Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-five.

“You know honestly all you’re doing is begging, hoping that the caution doesn’t come out because then you’re going to have to pit and you never know what could happen,” Truex said. “It mixes the field up and stuff. Just hoping for no cautions and don’t make any mistakes, hope the engine stays together.

“You never know how these things are going to go. Last year, I felt like we had the best car and we didn’t win and then this year I wasn’t sure we could beat the 4 (Kevin Harvick). We were real equal. He was better early in the race. I felt like we caught up to him a little, but he was going to be hard to beat either way.

“To get off strategy was the perfect call and then you just hope it works out for you, so sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield. Today we made the right call and it all worked out. We had a fast enough car to stay out there. Just happy for everybody. Proud of everybody on this team. Everybody back in Denver, 5-Hour Energy, Bass Pro, Auto Owners – all our partners, they really make this happen for us, so it means a lot.”

Truex didn’t hesitate to heap the praise on his crew chief for the call that ultimately got him the track position and won him the race.

“That was amazing,” Truex said. “I’m cool with whatever he wants to do. I tell him all the time, like you know win, lose or draw, we do it together and I just got a lot of trust in him. I don’t even say anything when he says pit or don’t pit. I just did what he wants to do, so awesome job by him today.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 21

  • MENCS Practice (2:35 pm to 3:55 pm – FOX Sports 1 (3:00 pm Tape Delay)
  • MENCS Final Practice (5:35 pm to 6:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, June 22

  • MENCS Qualifying (3:10 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, June 23

  • MENCS Toyota Save Mart 350 (3:00 pm – 90 laps, 365 km/226.8 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. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.