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June 10, 2024

Three Up, Three Down: Drivers in focus leaving Sonoma

Sonoma Raceway provided an incredible amount of ups and downs in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 — and not just in its elevation changes.

Kyle Larson was able to storm through the field and celebrate his second win in Napa Valley. Few others behind him left the 1.99-mile road course smiling — even those who capitalized on the day to exit with good finishes.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos: Sonoma

Before the circuit heads to the Midwest for the inaugural Cup race at Iowa Speedway on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App), here’s a look at the drivers who trended up and slid down through Sonoma.


1. Chris Buescher, No. 17 RFK Racing Ford

Chris Buescher races at Sonoma.
Brittney Wilbur | NASCAR Digital Media

Started: 26th

Finished: 3rd

What happened: After three weeks of disheartening results, Buescher launched back into the conversation Sunday at Sonoma, leading 32 laps and planting himself firmly in the conversation for the race win. He charged through the field early, setting himself up well enough that crew chief Scott Graves could leave Buescher on track to take the lead ahead of the final-stage restart.

Ultimately, Buescher was at a 13-lap tire disadvantage to eventual race winner Kyle Larson, but Buescher maintained to collect a third-place finish when second-place-running Martin Truex Jr. ran out of fuel. It’s Buescher’s first top-five finish since coming 0.001 seconds short of the victory at Kansas Speedway on May 5, ending a spell of poor results: 30th at Darlington Raceway, 23rd at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 14th at World Wide Technology Raceway.

What’s next: Buescher heads to Iowa Speedway for the track’s inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race. The Texas native scored an Xfinity Series win at the 0.875-mile oval in 2015.

2. Michael McDowell, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford

Michael McDowell races at Sonoma.
Brittney Wilbur | NASCAR Digital Media

Started: 12th

Finished: 2nd

What happened: Despite starting 12th, McDowell’s day was anything but smooth sailing and required a gargantuan comeback. The No. 34 Ford was inside the top 10 to begin Stage 2 but took an opportunity during an early-stage caution to hit pit road. That decision set the car back in traffic, just for calamity to strike in front of McDowell entering Turn 11, forcing him to knife through spun and sitting cars. The Arizona native then was involved in another melee not of his own doing, getting spun through the grass at Turn 8A after checking up for Austin Cindric, Noah Gragson and Corey LaJoie’s contact ahead.

But the veteran driver persevered and ran solidly inside the top five late in Sunday’s going, capitalizing on his speed and others’ misfortune to charge into a runner-up finish, his first top-five result of 2024.

What’s next: McDowell is no stranger to Iowa Speedway and has great results to show for it. In eight Xfinity starts — including six with Joe Gibbs Racing — McDowell has a 6.9 average finish at the Midwestern short track, earning a runner-up finish in 2014, his most recent outing.

3. Kyle Busch, No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Kyle Busch races at Sonoma.
Meg Oliphant | Getty Images

Started: 29th

Finished: 12th

What happened: A topsy-turvy day for Busch ultimately resulted in a net positive, finishing 17 positions better than he started. But even that felt like a little bit of a letdown for the two-time Cup champion. Busch was running fifth on the final lap, but a hard-charging Ross Chastain rocketed into Turn 4 and appeared to lock his brakes while attempting to pass Busch, ultimately spinning the No. 8 Chevrolet around.

Busch was still able to salvage a 12th-place finish for his efforts, continuing a four-race stretch of results outside the top 10 but earning his second top 15 in that stretch.

What’s next: Busch has only made two Xfinity starts at Iowa Speedway — way back in 2009 and 2010 — but managed finishes of second and first.


1. Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford

Joey Logano races at Sonoma.
Brittney Wilbur | NASCAR Digital Media

Started: 1st

Finished: 21st

What happened: All things started beautifully for Logano, who led each of the first 16 laps before the No. 22 team opted to pit under caution to get a jump on fuel strategy. That decision ultimately played a part in upending the team’s day, though, placing Logano in unfortunate circumstances when Chase Briscoe spun at Turn 8A. With Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford sideways cresting the corner, Logano darted left to avoid the mess but instead caught the rear of Briscoe’s car with the No. 22 Ford’s passenger-side door.

Logano never properly recovered and finished 21st despite starting from the pole position for the third time this season.

What’s next: Surprisingly, Logano has never made an Xfinity, Craftsman Truck, or ARCA start at Iowa — but don’t rule him out. Logano has a knack for doing really well when the Cup Series attends a track for the first time.

2. William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

William Byron races at Sonoma.
Logan Riely | Getty Images

Started: 6th

Finished: 30th

What happened: Byron’s race turned upside down almost immediately and never landed right-side up. The No. 24 Chevy was forced to pit with a flat rear tire at Lap 13, miring him back in traffic early. He charged back to 12th place in Stage 2 but was then collected in the Turn 11 pileup, breaking a toe link on Byron’s suspension.

The team eventually cleared the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock and could further repair the damage, but the day never quite improved. He later suffered a flat right-rear tire within the final 25 laps. Byron, a three-time winner this year, came home 30th, two laps down — his third finish of 23rd or worse in the past six races.

What’s next: Byron could use some good momentum and might find it at Iowa, where he has two wins — one each in Xfinity (2017) and Truck (2016) competition — in three national series starts.

3. Ty Gibbs, No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Ty Gibbs races at Sonoma.
Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Started: 10th

Finished: 37th

What happened: A self-admitted, self-induced mistake thwarted any chance of a good run Sunday for Ty Gibbs. A misjudgment exiting Turn 11 led Gibbs into the right-side concrete barriers on corner exit, impacting the right-front tire and wheel. That went from bad to worse two corners later when Gibbs couldn’t steer his car out of the Turn 1 concrete.

The result was a retirement after completing just 16 of 110 laps, leading to a 37th-place finish in the 38-car field.

What’s next: Gibbs may not have any Xfinity or Truck starts at the Iowa short track, but he does have three ARCA Menards Series races to lean on. In a shock to no one who remembers Gibbs’ ARCA domination, he has two wins in three starts at the 0.875-mile oval.