Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Preview

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 returned last year and remains in place this season.

Gragson Out with Concussion, Enfinger In

Last Sunday at Gateway, Noah Gragson had a heavy shunt when a brake rotor on his No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet failed, sending him careening into the outside wall. Though the Cup Series rookie was evaluated and released from the Infield Care Center afterwards, he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms later in the week and was ruled out for Sonoma.

As a result of Gragson’s absence, Truck Series regular Grant Enfinger will replace him this weekend.

“Noah’s health is the highest of priorities and we commend him for making the decision to sit out this weekend,” said team co-owners Maury Gallagher and Jimmie Johnson. “We are appreciative that Grant was available and willing to step in since the Truck Series is off this weekend.”

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, 3:30 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; Second stage – 30 laps; Final Stage – 55 laps

2022 Race Winner: Daniel Suarez – No. 99 Chevrolet (Started eighth, 47 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. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 97.6
  2. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.7
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 94.2
  4. Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 94.0
  5. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 92.2
  6. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 92.2
  7. Daniel Suarez – No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 87.0
  8. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 83.9
  9. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 82.9
  10. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 82.7

From the Driver’s Seat

“Sonoma Raceway is one of the more physical road courses on the circuit, for sure,” said Kyle Busch. “You’re always fighting grip. Even when you’re on the front side of a run, you’re trying to hustle the car. you’re slipping and sliding everywhere trying to make the most of the time while not running off course and keeping the tires somewhat underneath you. You try to minimize the tire degradation as it happens as much as you can, yet you know you’ve got to be fast and try to catch the guys in front of you.

“And with this new Next Gen race car, that has become even more important and more challenging to get right because everybody seems to be running much closer speeds. A lot of setups are very similar, a lot of brake packages are very similar. It’s hard to find any sort of advantage in that.”

Last Time at Sonoma

Prior to the 2022 running of the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, Daniel Suarez had come close to a win, but could never get over the hump to make it to Victory Lane.

But June 12, 2022 was finally his day.

After starting in eighth place, Suarez kept himself in position all race long and made his winning move at the start of the final stage, taking the lead for the first time and never looking back.

Suarez would lead 47 of the final 50 laps en route to scoring his maiden win and the first Cup Series win for a Mexican-born driver.

“It’s crazy day. I have so many thoughts in my head right now,” Suarez said. “I mean, it’s been a rough road. It’s been a rough journey in the Cup Series. These guys believing in me – Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks, Ty Norris. Everyone that helped me get to this point. A lot of people in Mexico: Jay Morales, Carlos Slim. My family, they never give up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t.

“Just very happy we were able to make it work.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, June 10

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (5:00 pm – FOX Sports 2)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (6:00 pm – FOX Sports 2)

Sunday, June 11

  • Toyota Save Mart 350 (3:30 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.