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Driver Reports: Previewing the Sonoma race

June 19, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Can Stewart, Bowyer break their 2014 winless streaks at Sonoma?

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 537 points.
Past five races: 6th at Michigan, 8th at Pocono, 15th at Dover, 7th at Charlotte, 1st at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 11 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Gordon's average finish is 7.6 and his average running position is 12.6 over the past nine years. In 21 career starts at Sonoma, he has five wins, 13 top-fives, 17 top-10s and five poles.
Quick hit: No one can turn his tires at Sonoma like Gordon. His five career wins at the unique 2.52-mile road course are a series record -- and no other driver in NASCAR history has more than two. Considering more than 80 percent of Gordon's starts here end in top-10s and that the veteran is one of only two drivers with an average finish of less than 10.0 in the loop data era, he is the easy favorite this weekend in California.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is second in the standings with 522 points.
Past five races: 1st at Michigan, 6th at Pocono, 1st at Dover, 1st at Charlotte, 9th at Kansas.
Season stats: 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Johnson's average finish is 11.6 and his average running position is 12.6 over the past nine years. In 12 career starts at Sonoma, he has one win, four top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Jeff Gordon still may be the king of Northern California, but Johnson is close to Gordon's prestige -- coincidental, since both Hendrick Motorsports teammates are from California. "Six-Time" is one of eight active drivers to have won here, and he's got five consecutive top-10s. There are some guys who are better pure road racers, but what sets Johnson apart here is his mind and his control. Winning three of the series' past four races heading into this weekend doesn't hurt, either.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is third in the standings with 514 points.
Past five races: 7th at Michigan, 1st at Pocono, 9th at Dover, 19th at Charlotte, 5th at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 10 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 22.9 and his average running position is 22.4 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Sonoma, his best finish is 11th (three times).
Quick hit: Stunningly, this isn't Dale Jr.'s worst track on the circuit if one were to judge by average finish. No, that would be Watkins Glen -- which is of little consolation considering both are road courses. Junior simply has never been able to outmaneuver most of the other veterans here. His finish of 12th last year gave him six career top-15 finishes at Sonoma, and that should be his goal Sunday.

4. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is fourth in the standings with 513 points.
Past five races: 14th at Michigan, 25th at Pocono, 3rd at Dover, 3rd at Charlotte, 10th at Kansas.
Season stats: 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Kenseth's average finish is 18.2 and his average running position is 17.9 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at Sonoma, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Kenseth is one of two drivers in Driver Reports whose career average finish is worse at Sonoma than it is at any other track -- interestingly, the other is Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, so any strategic questions ought to go to Kyle Busch. Bottom line, Kenseth's search for his first win this season will have to wait until next week at Kentucky. A top-10 finish would be his first since 2008 and second of his career.

5. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is fifth in the standings with 490 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Michigan, 2nd at Pocono, 2nd at Dover, 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 7 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Keselowski's average finish is 19.5 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past nine years. In four career starts at Sonoma, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Because Keselowski only has four career starts at Sonoma, the data is somewhat skewed by his 35th-place effort in 2010. In three starts since then, his average finish is a much more respectable 14.3. He should top that number Sunday, and his first single-digit finish here is very much within reach. A top-three would stretch his consecutive races with a top-three finish to four.

6. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is sixth in the standings with 462 points.
Past five races: 23rd at Michigan, 41st at Pocono, 14th at Dover, 4th at Charlotte, 6th at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Edwards' average finish is 15.6 and his average running position is 15.5 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Sonoma, he has two top-fives and four top-10s.
Quick hit: Edwards has two third-place finishes here in the past three years, and he's evolved into one of the most consistent drivers on this road course despite a career average start of 17.8. As the Roush Fenway intermediate program continues to lag, perhaps a road course is where the team can collectively turn its season around.

7. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is seventh in the standings with 454 points.
Past five races: 9th at Michigan, 40th at Pocono, 8th at Dover, 12th at Charlotte, 4th at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Logano's average finish is 15.8 and his average running position is 16.3 over the past nine years. In five career starts at Sonoma, he has two top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Among all the drivers in the field without a Sonoma victory, Logano seems to be the most likely to break through. Not only is he in the midst of a career year, but Team Penske has continually produced some of the best cars every week. Plus, this a place where Logano has shown real growth. After an average finish of 26.0 in his first two starts here, he's rallied for showings of sixth, 10th and 11th over the past three years.

8. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is eighth in the standings with 454 points.
Past five races: 8th at Michigan, 5th at Pocono, 11th at Dover, 18th at Charlotte, 12th at Kansas.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: Larson does not have a Sprint Cup Series start at Sonoma.
Quick hit: Larson may be more suited for this road course than he has been on any number of first-time tracks this season. The 21-year-old father-to-be is known for being a wheelman capable of taking on any track, in any car, in any condition. The quirks and challenges of Sonoma simply will not faze him.

9. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is ninth in the standings with 447 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Michigan, 14th at Pocono, 17th at Dover, 2nd at Charlotte, 2nd at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Sonoma, Harvick's average finish is 17.8 and his average running position is 15.3 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Sonoma, he has three top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Three of Harvick's past four results at Sonoma have resulted in top-10s, and his worst showing over that span is a reasonable 16th-place finish. Given that his cars are now better, and he's performing better behind the wheel in 2014, it's reasonable to expect another top-10. When you consider that engine trouble is rare on road courses and there are such few chances for a pit-road mistake, you could consider Harvick among the favorites since he's been plagued by those issues throughout the year.

10. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is 10th in the standings with 446 points.
Past five races: 41st at Michigan, 12th at Pocono, 42nd at Dover, 9th at Charlotte, 15th at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Busch's average finish is 20.4 and his average running position is 19.1 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Sonoma, he has one win, one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch was spun out twice in last year's race. The first he recovered from, and the second he didn't. It was that final bump with Carl Edwards that relegated Busch to a 35th-place finish. 'Rowdy' is one of the most naturally gifted drivers on the circuit, and he'll certainly top last year's effort. The question is how high he can go. Considering he hasn't logged a top-10 since his win in 2008, that's a start.

11. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is 11th in the standings with 440 points.
Past five races: 15th at Michigan, 7th at Pocono, 31st at Dover, 15th at Charlotte, 11th at Kansas.
Season stats: 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Newman's average finish is 14.3 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 12 career starts at Sonoma, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Newman's average place and average running position in the loop data era both rank eighth out of 45 drivers. Statistics show, however, that his best runs here came in the No. 12 for Team Penske. In fact, in his past five starts here (all with Stewart-Haas Racing), he's produced zero top-10s and an average finish of 18.2 -- far worse than his average finish of 9.4 in his first seven starts.

12. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 12th in the standings with 435 points.
Past five races: 29th at Michigan, 4th at Pocono, 5th at Dover, 22nd at Charlotte, 18th at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Sonoma, Hamlin's average finish is 22.9 and his average running position is 20.6 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Sonoma, he has one top-five and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: A top-five finish in 2009 is Hamlin's only true bright spot at a track that ranks as his worst on the circuit when it comes to career average finish. His 23rd-place effort last year was the best since that 2009 showing. Hamlin has qualified well here the past four races (average start of 12.3), but it simply has not carried over to race day.

13. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 13th in the standings with 420 points.
Past five races: 4th at Michigan, 26th at Pocono, 10th at Dover, 8th at Charlotte, 17th at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Menard's average finish is 21.3 and his average running position is 23.5 over the past nine years. In six career starts at Sonoma, his best finish is 14th in 2013.
Quick hit: Menard is coming off perhaps the best doubleheader weekend of his career, but he might be hard-pressed to keep his steadily-building momentum going out West. Sonoma is one of just six tracks on the circuit where Menard doesn't own a top-10 finish. The lone solace -- the best finish of his career, 14th, came last year, so perhaps he's on the verge of a breakthrough.

14. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota

Standing: Bowyer is 14th in the standings with 417 points.
Past five races: 10th at Michigan, 11th at Pocono, 4th at Dover, 17th at Charlotte, 23rd at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Bowyer's average finish is 9.1 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Sonoma, he has one win, five top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Bowyer's percentage of top-10s in total number of starts at this track (75 percent) ranks second among active drivers to only Jeff Gordon -- and given the Rainbow Warrior's gaudy numbers at this place, there's no shame in that. The No. 15 team has put together its best stretch of races in 2014 just as the summer schedule is about to heat up. Bowyer's chances of snapping his 56-race winless streak haven't looked this good in a long time.

15. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 15th in the standings with 409 points.
Past five races: 20th at Michigan, 16th at Pocono, 38th at Dover, 21st at Charlotte, 16th at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Biffle's average finish is 11.9 and his average running position is 16.5 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Sonoma, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Biffle isn't particularly known for being an expert on the road courses, but his history at Sonoma quietly suggests that one should not sleep on The Biff. He ranks 15th in average place over the past nine years, but his average finish of 11.9 is fourth during that time frame. The past two years he's started fourth twice and finished seventh and eighth. Given Biffle's struggles this year, he's a real value play in Fantasy Live this week.

16. Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Stewart is 16th in the standings with 402 points.
Past five races: 11th at Michigan, 13th at Pocono, 7th at Dover, 13th at Charlotte, 20th at Kansas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Sonoma, Stewart's average finish is 13.9 and his average running position is 11.0 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Sonoma, he has two wins, five top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: 'Smoke' was sporty at Michigan and a late pit-road speeding penalty away from contending for the win at Pocono. Yes, it looks like Stewart is reaching his peak as he so often does in the summer. Considering the three-time Cup champion is the only active driver other than Jeff Gordon to win here more than once and his average running position ranks third over the past nine years, this Sonoma voyage has all the makings of another race in which the veteran is in position to win late.

26. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 26th in the standings with 315 points.
Past five races: 13th at Michigan, 3rd at Pocono, 18th at Dover, 40th at Charlotte, 29th at Kansas.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Sonoma, Busch's average finish is 13.0 and his average running position is 10.0 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Sonoma, he has one win, six top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Absolutely no one has been better than 'The Outlaw' here over the past three years. Busch's lone track win came in 2011, and he finished third in 2012 and fourth in 2013. With a three-race top-five streak on the line, expect Busch to be honed in Sunday -- and expect his streak to continue.