Mash The Gas: Sonoma Preview

Action during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series turns both left and right this weekend as the Sonoma Raceway hosts the first road course race of the season in the Save Mart 350.

Toyota / Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway
218.9 miles (110 laps)
Sunday, June 26
3 p.m. ET
FS1, 1:30 p.m.
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
The Sonoma road course race has been quite unpredictable lately as there have been ten different winners in the last eleven races. It’s also a prime opportunity for some of the drivers with enhanced road racing skills to sneak their way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Road course racing Sprint Cup style is always exciting and here are some drivers to watch on Sunday in the Save Mart 350…

Kurt Busch (Dan Margetta)
Kurt Busch was one of the most consistent road course racers last season finishing second in this race and fifth at Watkins Glen. This year, Busch has already qualified for the Chase and his team is bringing the same car they raced in those road course events in 2015. Without the added Chase pressure Kurt Busch should be able to just race Sunday which is when he is at his best. His Sonoma record includes one win and seven top five finishes making him a 6-1 odds on favorite to win. I agree with the oddsmakers and I’m making Kurt Busch my top pick for the Save Mart 350.

Kyle Busch (John Wiedemann)
If there is a driver that can beat Kurt Busch this weekend, I would place my bet on the defending champion of the race, Kyle Busch. Kyle has wins at both Sonoma and the other road course the Sprint Cup Series races at, Watkins Glen. Busch’s short run to make the Chase and eventually win the Championship last season started with a win at Sonoma. Busch is well placed to make the Chase this season, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the hunger to get more wins. He is the defending champion and my pick to back that up by driving into victory lane on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
With finishes of 9th or better in the last seven Sonoma races, Jimmie Johnson has become an accomplished road racer. He does have a Sonoma victory and he owns the second best Driver Rating, giving him 7-1 odds this weekend. Strategy also plays an upgraded role on the road courses and crew chief Chad Knaus is one of the best at that aspect giving Johnson a bit of an edge there as well. With two victories already in 2016, Jimmie Johnson is in good shape this weekend to capture win number three on the road course at Sonoma.

Brad Keselowski (JW)
Will Brad Keselowski’s recent practice run at Road America in Simon Pagenaud’s IndyCar help him at Sonoma? Well, he spun Simon’s car in turn twelve, but he did improve each lap. Keselowski’s road racing skills are not always thought about when the two events pop up on the schedule but he is a very good pick to be in contention. Team Penske didn’t seem to be themselves earlier in the year but they are showing signs of consistency and may be ready to challenge Joe Gibbs Racing. A win this weekend isn’t out of the question for Keselowski.

A.J. Allmendinger (DM)
Certain drivers excel on the road courses and A.J. Allmendinger is one of the most skilled road racers on the circuit. It’s evidenced by the odds makers who have listed him at 7-1 odds this week (in contrast to Matt Kenseth who is 50-1 on the road course). Allmendinger has one Sonoma victory that came in 2014 and he has two top ten finishes. However, lately he has had some bad luck here, finishing 37th the last two years. Allmendinger needs to turn that luck around this weekend as its his best chance at making the Chase.

Kyle Larson (JW)
Kyle Larson just seems ready to win. Now more than ever, the Ganassi driver is ready to break through. Larson has the track record at Sonoma and that experience should help get a start at the front of the pack, which is important at a track like Sonoma where passing is at a premium. Larson is part of the young gun movement where it is a race between, Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon to see who can get to victory lane first. It could be Larson and could happen on Sunday.

Ryan Newman (DM)
At 30-1 odds this week, Ryan Newman is my long shot pick to win at Sonoma. Newman has two top five finishes at Sonoma to go along with six top ten results. His average finish of 12.6 over recent Sonoma races is second best in the garage and the team brings a brand new chassis this weekend. Ryan Newman isn’t on too many people’s radar this weekend but I think he may surprise them on Sunday.

Tony Stewart (JW)
Tony Stewart has two wins at Sonoma and is making most likely his final start at the track this weekend. Stewart has shown signs of raciness this season but the consistency is not completely there. This race is different and you could see the Tony Stewart of years past break out and move the #14 into contention for the race win. It sure would be exciting to see him dicing it out at the front of the pack and it is not out of the realm of possibility.

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