What to Watch: 2022 Cup Series race at Sonoma

Sonomaraceway Generalview
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Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
(⏰ 4 p.m. ET | 📺 FS1 | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, the 16th regular-season event of the 2022 campaign.

Race-day info 📝

Where: Sonoma, California
Approximate start time: 4 p.m. ET | Full weekend schedule
TV/Radio: FS1, TSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio | Full TV schedule
Forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 77 degrees, according to NOAA.gov | Weather tracker
Race distance: 110 laps | 218.9 miles
Stages: 25 | 55 | 110
Pit-road speed: 40 mph
Caution car speed: 45 mph
Grand marshals: The Bella Twins, WWE superstars
Pace car driver: Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers linebacker
The purse: $7,629,830
Sonoma 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See where drivers will start

Pit stalls: See where drivers will pit

Key things to watch 🔑

Big story line

It’s no secret that the Next Gen car was built to be tough and versatile. Part of that versatility is geared toward increasing its prowess on road courses throughout the season. With a wider tire profile and a body composition that can withstand more beating and banging through the turns, the usual road-course specialists should have stiffer competition this weekend at Sonoma. During the first road-course race this season at the Circuit of The Americas, drivers with minimal experience with left-and-right turns were able to be more competitive and outrun some of the favorites. Routine front-runners like Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., who has dominated the field at Sonoma in his career, will have to battle through a larger and stronger group of contenders if they are going to win on Sunday. And oh, yeah. The Chute is back.

Who’s hot? Who’s not?

Despite Chase Elliott’s historic dominance at road courses, it was Kyle Larson who had the hot hand for much of the 2021 season en route to his Cup Series championship. The California native has been on fire at Sonoma, starting on the pole in four consecutive races and leading a total of 68 laps. Larson has also won three of the last six races on road circuits, including last season’s showdown at Sonoma. Needing more consistent results to bolster his title defense, Larson and the No. 5 bunch could make Sunday the perfect time to jump-start a solid run.

Conversely, Aric Almirola has struggled almost as much as anyone on road courses. Almirola has 12 consecutive finishes of 12th or worse and has never led a lap in nine Sonoma starts. But looking at the numbers, the strategy hasn’t been that far off for the Stewart-Haas Racing Team at times, scoring stage points in three of six. But it will take a more complete effort for the No. 10 team to break their spiraling trend. Almirola finished 19th after starting 25th at Circuit of The Americas, suggesting that a better effort in qualifying could leave them with a solid chance at a top-10 run on Sunday.

Driving under the radar

If you just look at previous Cup Series starts as your metric, you won’t find rookie Austin Cindric among the favorites to win on Sunday. In fact, Saturday’s practice session will be the first laps for the No. 2 Team Penske driver at Sonoma. But Cindric is an accomplished road racer and would be an unsurprising winner if he can pull it off this weekend. He finished eighth at COTA and consistently ran at the front of the field in the Xfinity Series’ road-course races, including winning at the Daytona Road Course and Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Road Course. After winning the Daytona 500, Cindric’s inaugural season has been a rollercoaster. But with a heavy slate of road courses on the horizon, expect the No. 2 crew to once again make a statement.

Saturday’s sessions

Practice was a bit of a mixed bag for teams as they tried to dial in their car for qualifying and Sunday’s race. Sonoma is only the second road-course race of the year and it showed with a bit of rust and ironing out kinks in the Next Gen car. Unsurprisingly, AJ Allmendinger rose to the forefront of the leaderboard in Group A, while Kyle Larson continued his impressive run-of-form with a titanic effort in Group B. But it was Larson whose quick pace carried over to group qualifying, landing the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver his fourth consecutive pole in qualifying at Sonoma and fifth overall. A great start to the California native’s attempt to match his race-winning effort from 2021. | Full practice and qualifying recap | No. 51 team fails inspection, penalized

Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Race-day staples ✅

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

– Paint Scheme Preview: Cars dressed for the West Coast trip | Pick a favorite
– Power Rankings:
Will Bowman show out at Sonoma? | Updated drivers rankings
– Fantasy Fastlane:
Martin Truex Jr. destined for a breakout run at Sonoma | Top plays, sleepers
– NASCAR betting:
Best odds to win at Sonoma | Top dogs and underdogs
– Backseat Drivers:
Rivalries heat up for Sonoma | Experts analyze the race

Catch the pack 💨

Read up on the top headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.

– Chastain: Driver attempts to quell feuds, speaks to rivals | Full story
– Inspection:
No. 51 Cup team fails multiple times, penalized by NASCAR | Learn more
– Pearn’s return:
Cole Pearn serving as engineer on No. 19 JGR crew this weekend | Read more
– Twist-and-turn:
Sonoma’s winding layout presents next challenge for Next Gen car | Read more
– Domino effect:
Reddick on verge of first win, hoping for breakthrough at Sonoma | Read more
– Chastain vs. Hamlin:
Officials set to monitor the feud | Read more
– Mark, Mamba & The Mayor:
New podcast tackles Sonoma’s evolution, more | Listen here
– Chasing Smoke:
Hamlin one win away from Stewart on all-time win list | Full analysis
– Le Mans:
Kyle Larson drops subtle, playful hint at openness for 2023 race | Read more
– Byron blossoming:
William Byron wins prestigious Super Late Model race | Race recap
– On standby:
Daniel Suárez on standby for Carson Hocevar at Sonoma | Read more
– Strength in numbers:
Justin Marks sticks up for Ross Chastain, welcomes competition | Read more
– Jack Ingram:
Hickory Speedway set to honor NASCAR Hall of Famer | Learn more
NASCAR Diversity Internship Program welcomes 2022 class | See them here

Get in on the action 💰

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

– BetMGM: Which driver’s stock is rising for Sunday? | Read more
– The Action Network:
Featured matchup to bet on Sunday | Read more
– Play it LIVE: Full guide to 2022 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ
– Going all the way:
2022 Cup Series championship odds | See them here

Wine and winding roads 🍷

Get a quick look at relevant history, including previous winners of this road-course showdown.

– Winning out west: All-time winners at Sonoma | See the list
– Do you remember?
Most memorable moments at Sonoma | Relive them
– Ringers:
Active Cup Series drivers with road-course wins | Who has the most?
– Turn 11:
Biggest moments in Turn 11 at Sonoma | Watch the GIFs
– Sweet victory:
A look at past Sonoma celebrations | Road-course laurels

Fast facts ⏩

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

This will be the 28th race on the 1.99-mile, 11-turn layout and the first since 2018.
Sonoma is the second of six road course races in 2022.
The last four Sonoma races were won by four different organizations and Martin Truex Jr. won with both JGR and Furniture Row during that period.
Stage 1 at Sonoma has never had more than one caution and was caution-free twice.
Two of the last three Sonoma races had a final green-flag stretch of 46 or more laps, with the 2021 final stretch lasting only two laps.

Say what? 🎙

Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.

“I’ve always had some good speed at Sonoma (Raceway) and it’s my home track. It’s always fun to see my friends and family, and it was cool to get my first win at my home track last year. But that was with last year’s car and on the longer track. Hopefully, we can get another pole there this weekend, lead some laps and challenge for the win again.” — Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

“This car definitely lends itself to road course racing, so I’m excited to go to Sonoma this weekend. That is always a fun track and a great area to go to. It’s a lot different than anywhere else that we go, so I know a lot of people look forward to going there. As far as the track, it will be fun to go back to the layout we ran for a long time. It will add a few extra passing zones, which you will also see quite a bit of dive-bombing into those turns. That will make for an exciting race. We just need to stay out of trouble and I feel like we can have a good day.” — Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

“Sonoma is a fun road course and just a great market and experience for many folks who will experience their first race. I know we have a large contingent of our West Coast friends coming out for the weekend, as the area provides bucket-list experiences. I’ve been in the mix and close at Sonoma before, so figuring out the left and right-handers this weekend is key in getting our Kohler Power Reserve Ford primed and ready to go for Sunday.” — Brad Keselowski, owner/driver of the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford