Mash The Gas: Sonoma Preview

Jimmie Johnson leads a pack of cars during the 2016 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Jimmie Johnson leads a pack of cars during the 2016 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its first stop on a road course as the Sonoma Raceway hosts the Save Mart 350 on Sunday afternoon.

Toyota/Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway
218.9 miles (110 laps)
Sunday, June 25
3 p.m. ET
FS1, 1:30 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 25)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 50)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 110)
npredictable as the left and right turns are great equalizers.

Sunday’s Save Mart 350 could provide a great opportunity for some drivers to punch their ticket to the playoffs and here are some drivers to watch…

Denny Hamlin (Dan Margetta)
Denny Hamlin fared the best on the road courses last year, finishing a close second here and winning at Watkins Glen. Hamlin has yet to win this season which earns him very enticing 18-1 Odds. I think this is Denny Hamlin’s week to shine as his Sonoma record is pretty good too with two top five finishes and three top tens. Hamlin and all of Joe Gibbs Racing for that matter need a win badly and Sunday is Hamlin’s best shot to pull it off so far.

Kyle Busch (John Wiedemann)
Denny Hamlin’s teammate, Kyle Busch, is going to be the first winner on the Joe Gibbs Racing team this season. I may have said that before, but this time I believe it’s going to happen. Busch has been right there at the end of so many races recently, it’s ridiculous. This time, this weekend is going to be different. Busch has two wins at Sonoma, the most recent was in 2015 when he was coming back to the series from injuries and needed to win. Well, he needs to win again, maybe not right now, but hey there is no time like the present. Look for Busch to run up front and take the win this weekend.

Clint Bowyer (DM)
Clint Bowyer is one of those drivers who is a great road racer yet flies under everyone’s radar. Bowyer won at Sonoma in 2012 and he’s driving for the #14 team that won this race last year with Tony Stewart. Besides that 2012 win here Bowyer has six top five finishes and eight top tens at Sonoma. His average finish of 11.4 is one of the best in the garage. Bowyer is listed at 8-1 odds and also is in need of a victory to qualify for the playoffs. Don’t count out Clint Bowyer this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (JW)
Martin Truex Jr is in a tight battle with Kyle Larson for the series point standing lead and this has become fun to watch. The two drivers race each other hard and are one-upping each other each and every weekend. I could go either way with picking between the two of them this weekend, but I am leaning toward Truex. Truex has won at Sonoma in the past (2013) and has been the most consistent driver on the circuit. This battle between Truex and Larson for the point lead in the regular season may be the most interesting battle on the tracks. Not that Truex needs extra bonus points, since he already has racked up 20 and leads the series. Truex is five points behind Larson for the point lead, look for him to retake the lead this weekend.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick is also in the “need a win” boat and he’s also a pretty good road racer, especially at Sonoma. Harvick has many laps here prio to his time in NASCAR and has four top fives and seven top tens. He’s listed at 7-1 odds this week and once again should be one of the drivers to watch. Time is growing short to find victory lane and Harvick and the #4 team are well aware of it. Sunday could be the day they finally break though to the win column in 2017.

AJ Allmendinger (JW)
One of the favorites when it comes to a road course race is always AJ Allmendinger. Even though he has two bad finishes in the last three runs at Sonoma, he has led the most laps in those races combined. Mistakes have turned great starting spots and leading laps into 37th place finishes in the 2014 and 2015 races. AJ finished 14th at Sonoma last season. The good news is that the rules have changed this season and AJ has a good shot at scoring some Stage points. Add those to a win at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen and AJ will set himself up nicely for the playoffs.

Daniel Suarez (DM)
Daniel Suarez is listed at 100-1 odds this weekend and he’s my long shot pick. He has a road racing background and has been very smooth so far in his rookie Cup season. Suarez hasn’t made much if a splash this year yet but the road course at Sonoma could be just the ticket to get the job done.

Billy Johnson (JW)
Filling in for injured Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola this weekend is road racing ace Billy Johnson. After racing at Le Mans last weekend, long-time Ford driver Johnson returns to the states to enter his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race driving the iconic #43. Johnson has run in Xfinity Series five times with a best road course finish of eighth. Johnson also worked with Almirola, as well as many other drivers, on their road racing skills. Richard Petty Motorsports has one win, three top five and nine top ten finishes at Sonoma. Almirola and RPM were on a great run, prior to his back injury, and the team will look to continue that success with Johnson this weekend.

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