Photo: Matt Bolt/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Toyota Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR 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 the 1.990 mile 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 110 laps, which calculates out to 218.9 miles, or 350 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 its current 1.990 mile, 12-turn layout.

Since the implementation of the double file restarts at all NASCAR events a handful of years ago, the racing at the road courses has been taken up a notch, with action from start to finish. In the past nine races at the track, there have been nine different winners, so will we see the 10th different winner this weekend or will a driver who has already captured a win at the winding road course come out on top?

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:  1.990 mile, 12-turn road course

Race Length: 110 laps, 350 kilometers (218.9 miles)

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 25 laps each; Final Stage – 60 laps

2017 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 12th, 24 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. 41 Ford – 107.5
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 99.6
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 91.3
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 90.7
  5. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 90.1
  6. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 88.6
  7. Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 87.0
  8. Jamie McMurray – No. 1 Chevrolet – 86.4
  9. AJ Allmendinger – No. 47 Chevrolet – 84.9
  10. Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 84.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“Sonoma is a really fun track, but it can also be a tough track,” said Kasey Kahne. “Making your tires last, as well as turning in Turn 4, Turn 7, and Turn 10 are some pretty key things to focus on there.  Getting off of Turn 11 is also really important, but having forward drive and keeping your tires on the car throughout the race are some of the important things we focus on at Sonoma.  The restarts at Sonoma can be challenging because there’s a lot that goes on there usually with a preferred line, but it also kind of relies on the cars that are around you and how they’re able to take off up the hill and those first few corners.

“Everything matters at Sonoma, but the restarts are a place where you can either gain a lot, or lose a lot depending on where you’re at.  You have to get off of Turn 10 really well in order to get into Turn 11 well and out brake everyone else in order to get to the inside line in that corner.  A lot of times, you’ll see guys covering up that line since the field really backs up to you going into Turn 11.  When you have a car that brakes really well and pulls all four tires down to suck down into the track, that’s a fun spot to try to pass and get an advantage.”

Last Time at Sonoma

Starting the 2017 season, Kevin Harvick had just four tracks that he had not yet won at: Kentucky, Pocono, Sonoma, and Texas. After last year’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 the 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 race day, 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.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, June 22

  • MENCS Practice (2:40 pm to 3:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (5:40 pm to 6:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, June 23

  • MENCS Qualifying (2:45 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, June 24

  • MENCS Toyota Save Mart 350 (3:00 pm – 110 laps, 350 kilometers/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.