Twice a year the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leave the comfy confines of the oval and do something they don’t do too often — turn right! This is the first time of the season that the guys take to a road course, out west in Sonoma wine country, a hilly track featuring 160 feet of elevation change throughout. Not only are they driving back and forth through sharp turns, they’re going up and down as well. Not really something we’re used to on standard roads over the span of a minute and change, you and I.
Here’s what to look for:
–Kyle Larson was quickest on Saturday’s Qualifying session and will start from Pole for the second time this season. He actually started out front last year as well, but finished 26th. The pilot of the #42 is the first of six Chevy drivers in the Top 8.
–Martin Truex Jr starts Outside Row 1 today. 3rd to 37th (yech) in 2017, but followed that up with a 3rd to 1st at Watkins Glen (the other road course) a few weeks later. While they aren’t exactly the same (and no track 100% is), prowess on one usually lends itself to success on another.
–Clint Bowyer actually has the best average finish among active drivers if you can believe that. Last week’s winner holds a 10.7 average finish here, nine Top 10s in twelve attempts. He’s got a win here, too, and seven Top 5s. Very nice, Clint!
–Kevin Harvick led 24 of 110 laps to capture the flag in 2017. It was only his second road course win in the Cup series, the other coming at Watkins Glen. 13.8 at Sonoma, 5th best among active drivers.
–AJ Allmendinger is as close as you get to a road course “ringer” nowadays. The term originates from teams bringing in drivers specializing in this style of track to gain advantage over “oval” drivers, but that gulf dried up and eventually disappeared altogether. Drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart blurred the lines through the years, and then the equipment they were driving surpassed the imported talent. Ron Fellows and Boris Said (we’ll miss you today, Boris!) are two of the most recent to really achieve success here on a purely short-term, one- or two-race deal, but their cars never really gave them the necessary platform to win. Which brings us around back to ‘Dinger. He’s driving full-time with the #47 team, starts 5th today, and is seeking his second career win. His first came at Watkins Glen (9.3 average finish), but for some reason hasn’t quite clicked here yet. 22.4 is a stark difference, but he’s got the talent to bridge the gap.
Coverage of the race starts on FS1 at 3:00pm, green flag scheduled for 3:13pm.