The Rundown: Commentary on all 43 drivers
June 23, 2014, RJ Kraft, NASCAR.com
Driver-by-driver news and notes from Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350
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1. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Edwards snapped his mini-funk in a big way with his first career win on a road course. In his previous three races, he had an average finish of 26.0, but Edwards and his team relied on sound pit calls, needing only two stops and fast pit times to gain track position. On Lap 70, he was in 28th place after a pit stop a lap before the third caution and had earlier said he was struggling to get speed out of the car. By Lap 80, he was in second place and hot on Marcos Ambrose's heels before eventually taking and holding the lead for the remainder of the race on Lap 85. Upon getting the checkered flag, Edwards was overheard via RaceView on his team's radio, "Whooo. Yeah! Awesome! Thank you guys. Let's get some pictures." The victory made Edwards the fifth driver this season with two or more wins. See his Victory Lane interview here.
2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The five-time winner at Sonoma mounted a furious late-race charge at Carl Edwards but ran out of time. Still, the veteran maintained his points lead and picked up his 14th top-five finish and 18th top-10 finish at the road course that also serves as his home track. After the race, Gordon said he was "proud of the calls Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) made and everything the team did." See his post-race interview here.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. At a track where he had never recorded a top-10 finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored his best finish at Sonoma. The day wasn't without its bumps, given his involvement in the accident that ended Matt Kenseth's day or the contact that ruined AJ Allmendinger's afternoon. Junior got stronger late, going from 14th place on Lap 80 to his third-place finish. Afterward, Junior said that this car would head to the car graveyard on his Mooresville, North Carolina, estate and told his team over the radio, "no telling what this car could do with something driving it." Watch his race highlights here.
4. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The Coors Light Pole Award winner led nine laps and was up front for the majority of the race. However, the veteran couldn't take advantage of his great track position and cash in with a win to get on to the Chase Grid. At day's end, McMurray was upbeat but "mad that he finished fourth. I thought I had a chance to win before the last caution came out. I was working Carl (Edwards) over a little bit, waiting on him to make a mistake." That mistake never came. Watch his race highlights here.
5. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard mania continues. For the first time in his Cup career, the Wisconsin native posted back-to-back top-five finishes. The fifth-place result was Menard's best in seven starts at the track. With 20 races left in the season, Menard has already matched his output of top-fives (three) and top-10s (9) from last season. He's earned Richard Childress Racing's only top-five finishes this year.
6. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne started 30th and worked his way up to the front, getting up to sixth place on Lap 40. Contact from Casey Mears sent Kahne to the pits, and he was back in 28th place on Lap 50. He again worked his way up toward the front, but a slow pit stop on Lap 93 had Kahne upset over the radio. "We've got to be the slowest (expletive) team on pit road half the time." Despite that, the Hendrick driver had the most green flag passes with 97, scored his second straight top-10 finish and moved up three positions to 16th in the standings. For in-car audio for the remainder of the season, subscribe to RaceView.
7. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson led one lap Sunday, extending his streak of leading a lap to seven consecutive races. The No. 48 Chevrolet seemed like a threat for a fourth win as Johnson spent plenty of time in the top five, but his car seemed to lose a little steam late as he dropped from second place on Lap 70 to fourth place on Lap 80, and he went on to lose a spot every 10 laps to the end. After the race, crew chief Chad Knaus said over the radio that "I shoulda damn pitted you. We'll know for next time."
8. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. The road course specialist led five laps and scored his sixth straight top-10 finish at the track. But in the end, it still feels like the Australian native missed a golden opportunity given the new Chase format placing an emphasis on winning races. After the race, Ambrose said he and his team needed to "keep working at this place, trying to make ourselves better." Ambrose was also one of three drivers to only need two pit stops on the day. Watch his post-race interview here.
With an eighth-place result at Sonoma, Marcos Ambrose's Chase fate would seem to lie with how he fares at Watkins Glen.
9. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. After a disappointing showing at Michigan, The Biff rebounded with his first top-10 finish in six races. It also was the Roush Fenway Racing veteran's fourth top-10 finish at Sonoma in five years.
10. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer had an eventful race. The 2012 race winner started 25th but was in the top 10 by Lap 40 and was running second on Lap 60. After some contact from teammate Brian Vickers, Bowyer was quite upset over the radio. On Lap 82, he spun out and, as he was stalled in the hairpin turn, was hit by Kevin Harvick. Over the radio, Bowyer took issue with Jamie McMurray shoving him around the turn and vowed over the team radio to "catch that No. 1 car." Despite that late trouble, Bowyer bounced back for a top-10 finish, which was his third top-10 result in four races. Watch his race highlights here.
11. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman continues to churn out top-15 finishes for RCR. It was his ninth of the season and fifth in the last six races. This one moved him up three spots in the standings to eighth -- the biggest jump of any driver in the top 10 -- and a provisional spot in the Chase Grid. See the updated Chase Grid.
12. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. After starting in the top five and spending much of the early half of the race in the top 10, the "Outlaw" found himself in 24th place on Lap 80. And despite moving up to 17th place on Lap 90, Busch reported over the radio on Lap 91 that "we broke everything in the front end, were doing just great." Despite the late-race woes, Busch continued his four-race streak of top-20 finishes after having just two such finishes in the first 12 races. For in-car audio for the remainder of the season, subscribe to RaceView.
13. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Mears was another driver who bounced back well during the race. He started 12th and was running in the top 10 before contact from Clint Bowyer sent him into Kasey Kahne, and the No. 13 car suffered some damage. Over the radio, Mears said Bowyer "ran me into the 5 ... over my (expletive) hood." From there, Mears was in 37th place on Lap 40 but was able to work his way back up to earn his best finish since his 10th-place showing at Daytona. Watch his race highlights here.
14. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Given Michael Waltrip Racing's success at this road course the past two years, many liked Vickers as a sleeper contender this week. He started eighth and spent a good part of the race in the top 10. Contact on Lap 90 with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hindered the team's chance at a top-10. See the run-in with Stenhouse here.
15. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. The defending race winner at Sonoma had an up-and-down race. Early tire trouble threatened to derail the No. 78 team's chances in the opening laps. Then on Lap 50, Truex said his brakes were starting to fade. The team made adjustments and on Lap 95, Truex was running sixth. Despite ultimately sliding back to 15th, it continued a month of positive gains for the Denver-based team as it was his third top-15 finish in the month. He also had the second-most green flag passes with 96.
16. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. Logano led three laps in the race, the 12th race he's led this season. Overall, he finished right around his average finish for the track (15.8) and maintained seventh in the point standings. Logano showed some speed with his 93 green flag passes, which were the third-most in the race.
17. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Dillon was the highest finishing Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender in this race and seemed to make steady improvements as the race went on. Improving your position from start to finish with a relatively clean race car is a good first race at Sonoma.
18. Danica Patrick, No.10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The end result was Patrick's best finish of her Cup career on a road course, but there were some hiccups along the way. She qualified well, earning the 11th starting position, but was in 30th place at Lap 60. Being the beneficiary of the free pass on the race's fourth caution at Lap 76 helped Patrick get back on the lead lap and earn her fifth finish of 20th or better in 2014. At this time last season, she had just three such finishes.
19. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The three-time series champion and two-time winner at Sonoma was quietly lurking throughout the race. Holding sixth place on Lap 90, it looked like "Smoke" would rise and challenge for a third Sonoma victory down the stretch. But he was too fast entering the pits on Lap 92, falling back to 31st-place. For in-car audio for the remainder of the season, subscribe to RaceView.
20. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. Another week and another up-and-down race for Harvick. The good: He led 23 laps and had the most fastest laps run in the race with 12. The bad: Pit problems continued to plague the team. On a Lap 72 pit stop under a caution in which Harvick pitted in ninth place and came out in 11th, he told crew chief Rodney Childers over the radio, "it is getting, really, really, really old." Harvick's day got worse from there after he hit Clint Bowyer, who had spun out and was a sitting duck. His left front was crushed and that derailed his hopes of a win. See the incident with Bowyer here.
Clint Bowyer spun out on the hairpin turn at Sonoma and Kevin Harvick (4) simply had nowhere to go.
21. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. Despite a spin on Lap 87, Gilliland scored his second-best finish of the 2014 season. He spent a little time in the top 10 but was mostly running in the middle of the pack. The end result was the fourth straight week that the veteran driver finished ahead of where he started.
22. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. The 2012 Cup champion never found his rhythm. After Lap 11 contact with Kyle Busch caused him to spin out, he told crew chief Paul Wolfe over the radio, "I need a lot of help here, Paul." After spending the first two-thirds of the race in the 30s, the Penske driver made some marginal gains and ended up keeping his hold on fifth place in the point standings. Watch his race highlights here.
23. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola finished just above his career average finish at Sonoma entering this race. In three previous starts, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver averaged a finish of 25.3. He also continued a trend of finishing better than he started in all four career starts at Sonoma.
24. Michael McDowell, No. 95 Ford, Leavine Family Racing. Making just his eighth Cup start of 2014, McDowell scored his best finish of the campaign. The No. 95 car had the third-highest number of fastest laps run (seven) and was credited with 80 green flag passes.
25. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch had the definition of an up-and-down day. Early contact with Brad Keselowski on Lap 11 started his day off poorly. By Lap 30, he was in 34th place. Slowly though, he worked his way back through the field and was in ninth place on Lap 100. A spin on Lap 107 sent Busch back to 23rd place. Sunday's result was his third finish of 25th or worse in the last four races. Luckily for him, the series heads to Kentucky, where he has a win and has led the most laps of all Sprint Cup drivers. Watch his race highlights here.
26. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Every time Hamlin worked his way into the top 10, something seemed to go wrong. Handling issues plagued this year's Talladega winner throughout the race. Late contact with Ryan Newman took Hamlin from a potential top-10 to a finish in the bottom 20. Hamlin did have the distinction of spending the least amount of time on pit road (100.041 seconds), joining Ambrose and Edwards as the three drivers to run the race on two stops. Watch his race highlights here.
27. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. The rookie had a quiet day as the flag-bearer for BK Racing. His Sonoma result marked the seventh straight time the No. 26 team has finished ahead of where it started this season. It was also the 15th straight start in which Whitt was still running at the finish.
28. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. After qualifying third and spending much of the first half in the top 10, Larson told his team over the radio that he was losing power steering. In the end, Larson's Sonoma result was his worst showing since his season-opening 38th-place finish at Daytona. For in-car audio for the remainder of the season, subscribe to RaceView.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Larson (42) had a tough day at Sonoma.
29. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Bowman finished the race on the lead lap, something he has done just one other time this season. Maybe the rookie just likes California tracks as his last lead-lap finish came at Fontana in March.
30. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The Sprint Cup rookie started 42nd but gradually made progress throughout the race. The end result was the seventh straight race that the Tommy Baldwin Racing driver finished ahead of where he has started.
31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. The second-year driver continues to struggle. On Lap 90, Stenhouse made contact with Brian Vickers and that seemed to deflate his day. He spent a little time in the top 10 but was running mostly in the 20s before that accident. See the run-in with Vickers here.
32. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Sorenson was involved in a Lap 87 spin with David Gilliland that did not draw a caution. Sorenson's end result improved eight spots from his starting position, and he picked up a spot in the points standings, moving to 33rd.
33. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. Allgaier has made nice improvements each week, but a road course has its way of taking a toll on a rookie. The young driver spent the whole race in the back of the field and ended up with just his third finish of 33rd or worse this season.
34. J.J. Yeley, No. 44 Chevrolet, Xxxtreme Motorsports. Yeley was one of two drivers to attempt the road course double of Sonoma and Road America this weekend. After a fifth-place result in the Nationwide Series on Saturday, he had his best Sprint Cup finish of his season.
35. Boris Said, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. The road-course ringer continued his downward trend of Sonoma performances. In fact, the 51-year-old California native has not had a top-10 finish at the track since 2010 and has finished in the top 20 just once in the past four races.
36. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. The season-long struggles continue for Ragan as his 36th-place result at Sonoma is his sixth finish of 35th or worse this season. At this point last season, he had just four such finishes.
37. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. This one has to hurt for the No. 47 team. Allmendinger and his crew tested in Sonoma, qualified second and led a race-high 35 laps. But a bump from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a spin on the frontstretch left Allmendinger in a big hole from which he couldn't recover. Over the radio, Allmendinger was displeased saying "of course Junior is an absolute (expletive) and drives me into the wall." Watch his race highlights here.
38. Tomy Drissi, No. 66 Toyota, NEMCO Racing. The road course specialist added a third 38th-place Sonoma finish to his resume. After qualifying last, Drissi improved five positions.
39. Alex Kennedy, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport. Kennedy matched his 39th-place finish at Pocono with the same result at Sonoma. A rear gear issue put him in the garage at the end of the race, six laps down.
40. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. An oil leak sent Wise to the garage on Lap 57 to get some work done on his car. He returned to action on Lap 68 and finished 15 laps down.
41. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. The rookie driver had a tough go of it in his first run at Sonoma as he stalled on the track on Lap 61. He returned to the race and finished 19 laps down.
42. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The 2003 champion stayed patient and was running in the middle of the field before contact from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 75 sent the Joe Gibbs Racing driver off the track and into a tire barrier. Kenseth's car took a hard hit. He walked away from the wreck, but was done for the day. It was Kenseth's first DNF at Sonoma in 15 starts. Watch the wreck here.
Matt Kenseth hit the tire barrier hard but walked away from the accident. Despite the 42nd-place result, he kept a hold on fourth place in the standings.
43. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. It was a tough day for the other driver looking to complete the road course "wine-and-cheese double." A blown engine derailed Cassill's day on Lap 30. The last-place finish continued to send Cassill further down the standings, dropping two spots to 54th.