Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Sonoma Raceway for the first of three visits to a road course on the NASCAR schedule.
Four of the five drivers from the last edition of who to watch finished inside the top-5 at Pocono. Erik Jones, the only driver who didn’t finish inside the top-5, finished one lap down in 29th place.
Will Sonoma Raceway provide a surprise winner like A.J. Allmendinger? Can any driver stop the dominant trio of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.? Will Chevrolet win before NASCAR reaches Daytona for the second time?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Sonoma Raceway.
Clint Bowyer is coming off a win from the rain-shortened race at Michigan, the last time the NASCAR Cup Series was on the race track. A driver not once known for his road course ability, Bowyer is a driver to keep an eye on this weekend.
After picking up that second win, Bowyer is enjoying his time driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, especially Ford.
“It is all about people,” said Bowyer in his pre-race report. “I am at home here with Ford. It is a family atmosphere.”
“They are all in. You want to be with the ones who are investing the most and pushing the hardest to get the results, and I don’t think anyone is doing more than Ford these days.”
Bowyer, a past winner at Sonoma Raceway visiting victory lane in 2012, hopes to keep the fun going as NASCAR visits wine country.
In his last three starts at Sonoma, all with different teams, he has two top-3 finishes. If not for electrical failure driving for HScott Motorsports in 2016, Bowyer’s average finish would likely be higher.
Is there a track that Kevin Harvick isn’t favored to win at? There hasn’t been many this season. Harvick is the defending race winner at Sonoma, leading 24 laps in last year’s race.
Harvick is once again, looking forward to visiting the first road course race of the season.
“The first thing I think of when we are going to Sonoma is that we are going road racing,” said Harvick in his pre-race report.
“It’s definitely the first road race of the year and Sonoma is a very technical, slower-type road course. I’ve been fortunate to race there for a long time and look forward to going there every year.”
Harvick is one of three drivers to finish inside the top-10 in the last three races at Sonoma. He’s also one of five to score two top-5 finishes in the last three races at Sonoma.
Kyle Busch’s numbers at Sonoma Raceway are almost as good as Kevin Harvick’s in the last three visits. Busch won in 2015 and finished seventh and then fifth a year ago.
During that stretch, Busch led a total of 22 laps across all three races. With an average finish of 4.3 during the last three races, Busch is a serious contender at Sonoma.
Kurt Busch is the last of the three drivers to finish inside the top-10 in the last three races at Sonoma Raceway.
Busch led 43 laps in 2015 and finished second and backed that up with a 10th and 7th place finish the following two years. Those 43 laps are third best among active drivers in the last three races.
Busch has taken a liking to racing on the road courses in NASCAR, and looks forward to visiting them each year.
“I really enjoyed it right off the bat,” said Busch in his pre-race report. “I thought it was fun and different and I worked at it to develop the skills that I have in Legends car races and Late Model races.
“Everything seems to have a larger consequence because track position is so important. So, as soon as you have a flat tire or a fender rub or you go off track, it’s very difficult to get back the track position you once had.”
A.J. Allmendinger was the driver to watch every time the NASCAR Cup Series headed to a road course. But in recent years, Allmendinger’s success at road courses has been minimal compared to when he first arrived in NASCAR.
However, it would be foolish to leave Allmendinger off of this list given his ability to qualify up front at Sonoma Raceway. In his last three races at Sonoma, Allmendinger has started first, second and fifth.
Unfortunately for Allmendinger, his best finish during that stretch was a 14th place finish in 2016. The bright spot for Allmendinger is that he’s led at least one lap in those three races, showing that he can still run up front at Sonoma.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.