On to the first of two road course races for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this week, Sonoma being the 1.99 mile road course on Sears Point this week. Possibly one of the best things about heading to Sonoma this week, is the track is a destination not only for California’s NASCAR fans, but also many racing enthusiasts in general.
Sonoma Raceway attracts folks to its 11-turn stadium-like road course, because of it’s technical turns, elevation changes, and fantastic scenery. The blind corner entries, number of shifts, and finesse it takes to get around Sonoma efficiently make it one of the most difficult tracks to master for the drivers. In fact, all but one of the nine active NASCAR Sprint Cup winners at Sonoma participated in at least one or more races at the 1.99 miler, before visiting Victory Lane. Juan Pablo Montoya won at Sonoma in his rookie season and his first appearance, after starting 32nd, also the deepest in the field a race winner has ever started, back in 2007.
Starting towards the front of the field at Sonoma has paid its dividends over the years, as 18 of 24 races have been won from a top-10 starting position. That trend hasn’t been as significant as of late with 3 of the last 6 race winners at Sonoma have started from outside the top-10. This weekend’s race is going to be one to watch with the delta shrinking between the road course specialists and the top guys in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and this new Gen6 car producing more down force than we’ve ever seen.
I only made one pick last week, and I went with the wrong Roush-Fenway driver. I picked Carl Edwards on Thursday last week (along with Greg Biffle as my number two pick, but failed to mention him in my column last week), which was looking even better after last Friday’s qualifying session. Edwards led some laps last Sunday, but the caution flag waived just after a mid-race green flag pit stop, and Carl spent the entire second-half of the race trying to gain back the track position he lost in the shuffle. He fought his way back to an eighth place finish last week, netting me a top 10.
Marcos Ambrose and Juan Montoya are the obvious picks this week at Sonoma, and when deciding between the two, do keep in mind some of the luck Ambrose has had at Sonoma. For instance, remember back to 2010 when Ambrose opened up a 2+ second lead over Jimmie Johnson, when Brad Kesolowski spun and stalled in Turn 7, bringing out the caution with just 6 laps left. While trying to conserve fuel under caution, Ambrose shut down the engine and eventually lost pace with the caution car. He lost the race under caution in 2010, and luck just hasn’t been on his side at Sonoma over the years.
It’s because of Ambrose’s misfortune that I am leaning towards Juan this week. Montoya is going through the best stretch of his season, and the fact that he will probably need two wins to secure a Wild Card for the Chase, is why I’m going to take Juan this week. He won in his first ever appearance at Sonoma back in 2007, and has been lighting up the charts so far this weekend. Montoya was second to Ambrose in the first practice session on Friday and fifth-fastest in happy hour, and rides a string of solid finishes into a track he’s been successful at over the years. He’s the guy to watch on Sunday.
Dark Horse Pick
This is a true longshot pick this week. Sonoma ranks as Jamie McMurray’s 6th-best track, and he’s inside the top-10 in a few of the traditional loop stats including green flag passes and average green flag speed. The practice speeds look even better as McMurray was 5th fastest in first practice yesterday, and followed up that practice session being shown second on the leaderboard after Happy Hour. This team has been coming around as of late, and could be a guy to knock off some of the road course ringers this week.
That’s all for this week so until we head to the Bluegrass State…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!