Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, CA — June 6, 2021
It’s back to a road course for the NASCAR Cup Series drivers this weekend. The Save Mart 350 gives the road racing guys a chance to show off their driving skills. It is also another opportunity to add a new name to the 2021 winner’s list.
Sonoma Raceway, originally known as Infineon Raceway, has hosted 31 NASCAR Cup Series races dating back to the inaugural event on June 11, 1989. The first Cup race at Sonoma was won by Ricky Rudd who dominated the race leading 61 of the 74 scheduled laps.
Ford has eight all-time series wins at Sonoma by eight different drivers. Kevin Harvick(4) is the only active Ford driver with a Cup win at Sonoma.
Chase Elliott(9) will be the favorite after his win at COTA earlier this year. The conversation about contenders will also include Kyle Larson(5), last week’s winner. Martin Truex Jr.(19), winner of the last two events at Sonoma Raceway, and Kyle Busch(18) a past winner at the track will likely be in the mix.
Harvick, Kurt Busch(1), and youngsters Tyler Reddick(8), as well as Ross Chastain(42), are all non-winners this year and could find themselves in victory lane at the end of the day.
Larson will start on the pole with Elliott on the front row beside him. The race around the 2.52-mile circuit consists of 90 laps with stages of 20/20/50 laps. There will be a competition caution after Lap 10 as no practice or qualifying was held at the track.
Kyle Larson started the race from the pole and just like his dominating win last week at Charlotte he quickly drove away from the rest of the field. Christopher Bell(20) pitted early with a loss of fuel pressure. His crew reset the onboard computer and he returned to the track, losing a lap in the process.
Several teams opted to pit for tires under the green prior to the competition caution. Rules prevent them from taking on fuel until the yellow is displayed, but a stop for fuel only will be much quicker if no tire changes are involved. With the 1st Stage only 20 laps, fuel is not a critical issue.
Larson, Elliott, William Byron(24), Kyle Busch, and Truex lead the field back to green.
Byron pitted just before the pits were closed with 2 laps to go in the Stage. Crew chiefs are looking for any advantage they can manufacture on pit strategy and track position.
Larson wins his 5th consecutive and 6th of the last 8 Stages that have been run in the Cup Series. That’s what you call being on a roll.
Stage 1 Results
|4||19||Martin Truex Jr.||7|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
While the leaders pitted, 14 cars stayed on the track for the start of Stage 2. Kurt Busch inherited the lead, Matt DiBenedetto(21), Brad Keselowski(2), Denny Hamlin(11), and Ryan Blaney(12) are the new Top 5.
It only took two laps for Elliott and Larson to return to the Top 10 with the advantage of new tires. However, that extra grip will equalize as the laps mount up. William Byron, who pitted early before the end of Stage 1, drove to the lead. Larson moved to 2nd with 11 to go in the Stage.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) hit the wall when he had a tire go down just past the halfway point of Stage 2. The caution flag waved and teams will now have to decide how they will handle stops. Pitting at this point would allow a car to make it to the end with one more stop for fuel. But, tires are a factor to consider as some teams will surely choose to pit at the end of the Stage.
Larson and Truex were two of the 18 drivers who stayed on the track as the race restarted with 6 laps to go to the green and white checkered flag. Kurt Busch, who was the first out of the pits of those drivers that choose to come in on the caution, moved into the Top 5 with 2 laps to go.
Truex pits just before pit road is closed with 2 laps to go. Larson stays out and notches another Stage win. Who made the correct decision? With 50 laps to go, another pit stop will be required before the end of the race.
Christopher Bell, who was a lap down early, worked his way through the field to finish in 10th and earn a Stage point.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Kurt Busch and Elliott, the leaders of the off-cycle strategy drivers, led the race back to green. Larson was mired in mid-pack after pitting on the normal sequence. Elliott went to the front as Larson worked his way into the Top 5.
With 38 laps to go, Larson was in 2nd trailing Elliott by 4.5 seconds. Pit sequence strategy is likely to go out the window at this point, expect the leaders to all pit at once so no one has a tire advantage for a bunch of laps.
Larson passed for the lead with 33 laps to go, Truex ran in 3rd, Erik Jones(43) in 4th, and Joey Logano rounding out the Top 5. Leaders began pitting with 30 laps to go. Larson pitted with 26 laps to go. However, the right front tire of Larson’s car was worn to the steel belts on the outer edge.
After just 6 laps on fresh tires, Larson was back out front with 22 to go. Truex ran 2nd, but did not appear to have the horsepower to stay up with the #5 car. Quinn Houff(00) stalled on the course when his engine expired with 19 laps to go and the caution came out.
Almost the entire field came to pit road during the yellow flag period for fresh tires and fuel. Logano, Reddick, Corey LaJoie(7), and Anthony Alfredo(38) stayed on the track. Larson, the fastest of pit road, restarts in 5th with 16 laps to go. A lap later, Larson was back out front.
Kevin Harvick, LaJoie, Byron, and Chastain all got tangled up in Turn 1 as the race went back under caution with 14 laps to go. Bowman, Jones and Bell were also involved to a lesser extent. Crews were only allowed 6 sets of tires for the race, so pit stops are unlikely unless it is necessary to repair damage. Byron was forced to retire with damage to the radiator, Harvick’s car had to have the hood and right front fender removed but he was able to continue.
Back to green flag racing with 11 laps to go, Larson pulled away followed by Logano, Elliott, Truex, and Reddick.
Ryan Preece(37) and Cody Ware(51) got together with 5 laps to go and the field was put under caution once again. Setting up a sprint to the finish line with 3 laps to go at the resumption of racing. Before the field could complete a lap, Alfredo spun costing him a possible Top 10 finish and bringing out the 8th caution of the day.
After 90 tough laps it will take NASCAR Overtime to settle things at Sonoma. Will sparks fly between teammates on the front row? Larson escapes to gap Elliott and Chase puts space between himself and Truex in 3rd.
Larson holds on for the win, sweeping all the Stages as he did at Charlotte.
With his 3rd win on the season Kyle Larson moves ahead of Martin Truex Jr by 77 points in the ranking of 2021 winners. Larson still trails season points leader, Denny Hamlin, by 65 points.
We have narrowed our rankings to the Top 25 drivers. Cole Custer and Aric Almirola, both playoff drivers in 2020, have dropped from our published list.
|1||Kyle Larson||597||In Win(3)|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||520||In Win(3)|
|3||Alex Bowman||433||In Win(2)|
|4||Chase Elliott||576||In Win|
|5||William Byron||559||In Win|
|6||Joey Logano||539*||In Win|
|7||Ryan Blaney||509*||In Win|
|8||Kyle Busch||508||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski||470*||In Win|
|10||Christopher Bell||363||In Win|
|11||Michael McDowell||355*||In Win|
|NASCAR Playoffs Cut Line|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||309||-72|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Save Mart 300 from Sonoma Raceway
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||1.869||92|
|37||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-52||40|