Sonoma Preview: Ringers v The Field

Sonoma Preview: Ringers v The Field

by June 22, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

SONOMA, Calif. — For the 26th time in its history, the Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California will host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350k.

The first of two road courses on the Sprint Cup calendar used to be a race that was dominated by a select few Sprint Cup Series regulars and road course regulars. Now, it’s turned into a bit of a crapshoot. Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports) and Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas Racing) used to dominate at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen from the late-90s on but as of late a multitude of series regulars with a lack of road racing experience have found their way into victory lane. The last six Sonoma races have provided six different winners at the 1.99-mile circuit with Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing), Clint Bowyer (Michael Waltrip Racing), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports), Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports), and Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) all taking wins in each of those six years.

Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate, Brian Vickers, are considered two of the favorites to win this year’s running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350k. MWR have won the last two Sonoma races with Bowyer winning here in 2012 and Truex Jr. winning last year while he drove the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Camry for MWR. Looking at the pair’s history at the track, Vickers only has one top-10 at the track that came in 2012 when he finished in fourth for MWR. Bowyer would win the 2012 race here and has five top-five finishes in eight career starts on the circuit.

Both Bowyer and Vickers have shown strong pace in both practice sessions for the race with Bowyer posting the fastest lap of the weekend with a lap of 74.634 seconds in Friday’s final practice. Vickers would qualify eighth for Sunday’s race but Bowyer would be unable to replicate his practice pace in qualifying and would thus qualify in the 25th position. A far-back qualifying position does not doom Bowyer’s chances for victory as both Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya were able to win at Sonoma in the past from starting positions even further than 25th.

Long considered a road-course ringer although he is a series regular, Marcos Ambrose (Richard Petty Motorsports) is still yet to win at the Sonoma Raceway. Ambrose has come close on several occasions to closing out a victory on the west coast with five straight top-10 finishes at the circuit but has yet to close out the deal. With the changes to the Chase qualification system this year, Ambrose and the No. 9 crew know that a win will likely lock them into this year’s running of the Chase and the team would rather prefer to punch their ticket into the Chase early rather than waiting for Watkins Glen – a track that Ambrose has won at twice.

For Ambrose to get to victory lane this weekend, he will have to come from a 23rd-place starting position – his worst ever starting position at Sonoma. The two-time V8 Supercars champion should have no problem getting to the front as he has the skills required to easily charge his way up through the field and to the lead.

To get to the lead though, he’ll have to go through his former teammate, A.J. Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing.) Allmendinger is yet to win in the Sprint Cup Series but he has steadily been improving throughout this season and at Sonoma itself. The driver of the No. 47 Kingsford/Clorox SS has four straight top-13 finishes at Sonoma with two of those finishes being top-10s. Allmendinger has been able to deliver his crew some solid top-10 results thus far this season and is looking to provide the JTG Daugherty Racing organization with potentially their most successful season yet. With strong equipment underneath him and a front-row starting position for the race, Allmendinger could make his way into the Chase by making himself the 11th different winner  of the 2014 season.

Will a road course veteran such as Allmendinger or Ambrose earn themselves a victory and punch their ticket into the Chase? Or will a series regular such as Bowyer, Ambrose, or even Truex Jr. and Kahne drive their way into victory lane? The answer to those questions will be revealed after 110 laps of pulse-pounding action on the twisting Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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