For the first time since 2019, NASCAR is back in Napa Valley to snake its way through Sonoma Raceway in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Sit back, enjoy the left and rights, and pour your best glass of Cabernet Sauvignon as the stars of the Cup Series hit their second road course in three weeks.
STARTING FROM THE TOP
On the heels of a dominant performance at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, Kyle Larson claimed the Busch Pole award for the fourth consecutive time at Sonoma, eclipsing the previous record of three set by Ricky Rudd from 1990-92. Joining Larson on the front row will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and road course ace Chase Elliott, while William Byron and Denny Hamlin complete the second row. Read the entire starting lineup here.
Sonoma Raceway is sold out at its allotted 33% capacity for Sunday’s Cup Series race. Fans on site are reminded to wear masks at all times and that cash will not be accepted at the track, in addition to other fan safety guidelines.
CUP HISTORY AT SONOMA
– Sonoma held its first Cup race in June 1989, a 74-lap contest around the 2.52-mile circuit won by Rudd.
– In 2019, the Cup Series returned to the “full course” layout of Sonoma by running The Carousel, a section eliminated from Cup competition in 1998 through 2018. The Carousel, which dives from Turn 4 and sweeps left through Turns 5 and 6, is back in 2021.
– With the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-induced cancelation, Sonoma has marked the 16th race on the schedule since 1998.
– Martin Truex Jr. has won each of the last two races in Napa Valley, leading at least 59 laps in each contest to go along with his 2013 victory.
– Chase Elliott has won five of the last six road-course races but has yet to visit Victory Lane in Sonoma. In four starts, he has two top 10s and a best finish of fourth (2018).
Source: Racing Insights
The 750-horsepower, low-downforce road course package is back in action this week in the rolling California hills. The last time NASCAR raced at Sonoma, the Cup Series utilized the same horsepower package but had more downforce than they’ll carry into the weekend this time around.
Teams will traverse the 2.52-mile circuit on a new tire code this time around, running the same compound on all four tire positions at Sonoma.
The change in compound was made to give drivers more grip around what is often considered the most technical courses of the season.
“Sonoma gives us a slightly different feel than what we see on other road courses like Watkins Glen or our recent stop at COTA,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Sonoma is a more technical course than most. Hard braking and acceleration on and off the tight corners means that grip is at a premium. Teams could make it a two-stop race, but many will choose to pit a third time to take advantage of fresh tires, especially at the end of the race.”
As with all road courses, wet-weather tires will be available at Sonoma, but teams won’t need them in the California sunshine, with clear skies forecast through the weekend.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
It should come as no surprise that Chase Elliott is the clear-cut favorite for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350. BetMGM lists the defending series champion at 21-10 odds to win ahead of two-time defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. at 15-4 odds.
Elliott has won six of the last nine road courses and five of the last six. His current streak is unmatched, but Truex offers solid competition as the duo has combined to win nine of the last 11 road course races.
Others to keep an eye out for are Kyle Larson (7-1), Kyle Busch (15-2) and Denny Hamlin (10-1).
If you’re looking for a sleeper, perhaps watch for Alex Bowman. While he lacks the resume of his dominant HMS teammate, has scored top 10s in four of the last five starts on road courses and has never finished worse than 14th at one since joining Hendrick. His best road-course finish is a second at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course in 2019.
RELATED: Betting odds for Sonoma
SONOMA STORYLINES, SEASON TRENDS
– Chase Elliott could, in theory, become NASCAR’s all-time winningest road course racer by the end of 2021. Jeff Gordon holds the current record with nine victories, but Elliott is already up to six with five road courses left on the Cup schedule this season.
– Hendrick Motorsports has finished 1-2 in each of the last three races (Dover, COTA, Charlotte). The last team to finish 1-2 in four consecutive races was Carl Kiekhafer Racing in 1956, the only time in Cup it has happened.
– HMS has also won each of those three races with three different drivers, the first time the organization has done so since 2015 (Jeff Gordon at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson at Texas and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix).
– Tyler Reddick has finished top 10 in eight of the first 15 races this season, including seven of the last nine. The last Richard Childress Racing driver to score at least eight top 10s in the first 15 races was Ryan Newman in 2015.
– Each of the last two Sonoma races have been won by Martin Truex Jr. on a three-stop strategy, pitting with two laps to go in each of the first two stages. Kevin Harvick won in 2017 on a four-stop strategy.
– No cautions have fallen during the final stage since 2016, with the exception of a last-lap caution when Harvick won in 2017.
– After the season began with 10 different race winners in 11 races, three of the last four races have been won by repeat victors.
Source: Racing Insights
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts. It’s not too late to join in on the competition.
The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Denny Hamlin (629), William Byron (548) and Kyle Larson (543).
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
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