What to Watch: 2023 Sonoma Raceway

Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
(⏰ Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET | 📺 FOX, FOX Sports App | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race in California, the 16th points-paying race of the 2023 Cup Series campaign.

Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Weather tracker | Sonoma 101

📍 Location: Sonoma, California
📐 Track length: 1.99 miles
🎟️ Buy tickets: Find weekend passes, seats for the race
💰 Cup Series race purse: $8,054,721
📏 Race distance: 218.9 miles | 110 laps
🔢 Stages: 25 | 55 | 110 (Note: there will be no actual “stage breaks”; points are awarded at each lap marker noted)

🚪 Entry list: Cup Series drivers entered
📋 Starting lineup: Denny Hamlin on pole | Full recap
🚗 Pit stall assignments:
See where drivers will pit
🏆 Most recent winner: Daniel Suárez | No. 99 driver re-watches, reacts to win

Key things to watch 🔑

Top story line

CHASE ELLIOTT’S RETURN, PART DEUX. For the second time in the past several weeks, Elliott will make his return to the Cup Series after being sidelined — albeit for very different reasons than his injury earlier this season. NASCAR’s most popular driver was suspended for the race at St. Louis, but will strap back in Sunday as he aims to put a rocky start to 2023 in his rearview and focus on the road ahead. The path forward isn’t a simple one, however, as Elliott’s seven races missed thus far have him buried just inside the top 30 in points and in likely must-win territory in order to make the playoffs. The good news for him? He has a shot to win at any of the remaining regular-season tracks, and Sunday marks just as good a spot for him as any. Though he’s yet to win at Sonoma, Elliott’s seven road-course wins are just shy of a pair of Hall of Famers (Jeff Gordon, 9; Tony Stewart, 8) and it’s wildly unlikely that he won’t someday — perhaps even by the end of this season — be atop that list at some point. His average finish of 8.16 on road courses is by far the best among active drivers as well (Tyler Reddick is second at 12.19) and there’s no better way for Elliott to officially stamp his mark on the 2023 season and re-announce his reign as road-course king than with a win out West.

ICYMI: Elliott moves on, aims for rhythm in return | Hendrick accepts suspension, comments on aggressive driving

History tells us…

ROAD COURSES ARE A YOUNG MAN’S GAME (LATELY). Somewhat remarkably, drivers 30 years old and younger have won 17 of the past 18 road-course races, and the one who wasn’t may not be the driver you’re thinking of. It was not that long ago that the aforementioned Elliott seemed to be battling Martin Truex Jr. — the second-oldest full-timer in the series — for every road-course trophy. The one outlier in the past 18 races has been AJ Allmendinger, however, with Truex struggling to contend for road-course wins the past few years. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe, the more you think about it. Driving styles have unquestionably gotten more aggressive over the years, and as more and more road courses are added to the schedule it seems that the line of what is acceptable keeps getting pushed farther out there. For so long there were just two static road courses on the schedule, with the sport’s current longtime mainstays taking cues from their elders who only raced during this era that saw a very specific style of road-racing decorum. A new and unwritten driver code appears to be in store these days, however, and the old guard has yet to fully embrace it. Keep this in mind if any of the Truex/Allmendinger/Kevin Harvick/Denny Hamlin/Kyle Busch contingent finds themselves racing for the win against, say, a young, hungry and aggressive driver who won on a road course last year at Circuit of The Americas. Just spitballing here.


He may not be the betting favorite to win, but watch out for…

CHRIS BUESCHER. Last year’s top three at Sonoma — Daniel Suárez, Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell, respectively — all nabbed their best-ever finishes at the track, and honestly any of the three of them fit the mold here. It’s Buescher, specifically, that I have my eye on, however. His Cup wins have come few and far between — one in 2016, one last year in the Bristol Night Race — but it should not surprise you if he winds up in Victory Lane on Sunday. The extremely underrated road racer has finished in the top 10 in the last six road-course races — the longest active streak in the series, and the longest any driver has put together since Busch’s eight straight from 2015-18. In the list of best average road-course finish among active drivers, Buescher’s 14.81 ranks ninth overall (in a strong sample size of 27 races), with the eight drivers above him combining for six Cup Series championships. In his last eight starts alone he’s averaged a stellar 8.13 finish, with seven of his eight total road-course top 10s coming in them. RFK Racing has been a team clearly on the rise in 2023 and Buescher is clearly due.

Saturday’s sessions

As expected, recent road-course dominator Tyler Reddick was fast when it counted – but unexpectedly, his 23XI Racing boss and Toyota stablemate over at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin, edged him out in the final seconds of qualifying for his first career Sonoma pole. Given their recent road-course acumens, it still feels more likely Reddick goes out and wins Sunday, but the pole – Hamlin’s first on a road course since 2018 – may add a further spark to a No. 11 team that had already been showing recent speed. Perhaps this is an indicator of what’s to come over the summer with this group. Also, notably, Kyle Larson was off in qualifying after leading practice and looking like the man to beat all weekend to that point. He’ll start 16th in search of his first Sonoma win.

Inside the Race 🔍

NASCAR.com’s Kim Coon and Todd Gordon analyze the ‘No stage break’ rule at Sonoma and how teams can adjust.

Familiar favorites ⭐️

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

– Paint Scheme Preview: Bowman, Harvick bring new schemes to California | Pick a favorite
– Power Rankings: Did Suárez find the spark he needs to make a run? | Latest driver rankings
– Fantasy Fastlane:
Is Tyler Reddick the new road-course king? | Top plays, Fantasy Live advice
– Betting odds: Favorites, long shots to win on Sunday | Top bets, underdog picks
– Stacking Pennies:
LaJoie recaps his day in the No. 9 and moving forward | Listen to the podcast

💎 NASCAR 75: Learn more about the history of the sport, from pioneers to current stars | Visit NASCAR 75 hub

Hot off the press 📰

Key stories and breaking news from the week leading up to the race.

– On the bubble: Defending winner Suárez shares playoff thoughts entering the race | Read more
– Out in the open: NASCAR displays counterfeit part from No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford| Read more
– Helping hand:
Martin Truex Jr. enjoying a new resource in 2023 – Tyler Reddick | Read more
– Advance to Victory Lane:
Elliott has chance to get season back on track | See projected results
– No penalty here:
‘Really hard racing’ at crux of Cindric, Dillon incident | Read more
– No place like home:
An emotional Erik Jones earns first Money in the Bank 150 victory at Berlin Raceway | Read more
– Penalty alert:
NASCAR levies L1-level penalty against No. 43 Cup team post-St. Louis | Read more
– Stacking Pennies:
Corey discusses adjusting to the No. 9 car | Hear his words
– Twice as nice:
Inaugural Xfinity Series race at Sonoma attracts double-duty drivers | Read more
– Safety first:
Next Gen receives significant safety updates set to debut at Atlanta | Read more
– Exclusive video:
Watch footage from crash test that helped inform decision-making | Watch the video
– Busch is back:
Analysis: Kyle Busch surges back to title contention with RCR | Read more

Get in on the action 💰

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

– Fantasy Live: Participate in interactive gameplay from week to week | Choose your lineup
– Fan Rewards: New in 2023, get rewarded for your participation | Learn more
– NASCAR BetCenter: Don’t miss your chance to make picks each week | Visit the BetCenter
– Going the distance:
2023 Cup Series championship odds | See them here
– The Action Network: Picks and predictions for Sunday’s race | Expert analysis | Best race-day play

Sundays in Sonoma 🍷

A popular fixture of the NASCAR schedule for decades, relive some of the best moments and see photos from last year’s race.

– Winner, winner: Suárez makes history at Sonoma with dominant first win | Full race recap
– Final laps: Spanish call:
Listen in as Suárez crosses the line at Sonoma | Watch here
– At-track photos:
See best scenes from last year’s event | Scroll through gallery
– Relive in GIFs:
Recap the 2022 race with the best from out West | Take a look
A history of sippers: All-time wins: Sonoma Raceway | Take a look
Gold rush: NASCAR’s famous firsts out West | Take a look

Take some notes 📝

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

When he takes the green flag on Sunday, Kevin Harvick will surpass Jeff Gordon on the all-time starts list with 806 for ninth overall.
The 2023 season has seen a pass for the win in the final two laps six times in the first 15 races. That’s the most in any season since at least 2010.
Five former Cup winners (A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Justin Haley, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell) have yet to win in the Next Gen’s first 50 points races. They have two road-course wins combined, each belonging to Allmendinger.
After 15 races in 2022, Hendrick Motorsports had five wins and Joe Gibbs Racing had three. Each team also has the same amount through 15 races this season.
Multi-time Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. has four top-five finishes this season — all of which came in the last seven races.

🔮 Advance to Victory Lane: Racing Insights projects Sunday’s finishing order