Sonoma Raceway, Sonoma, CA — June 12, 2022
The NASCAR Cup Series makes a stop at a road course this Sunday with Sonoma Raceway hosting the Save Mart 350. Taking a break from the ovals is an opportunity for a driver to make their mark on the twisting turns that showcase turning right as well as left. It may well provide the chance for a driver that has not won this year to enter his name into the playoff picture.
|Active Sonoma Race Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|Martin Truex Jr||3||2019, 2018, 2013|
|Kyle Busch||2||2015, 2008|
One of those drivers who has yet to visit victory lane this year is Martin Truex Jr., the active wins leader at Sonoma. He is going to have the benefit of an old ally to help his effort to get into the win column in 2022.
Joe Gibbs Racing has called on Cole Pearn to return to the No. 19 team this weekend at Sonoma Raceway and will serve as race engineer assisting crew chief James Small. Pearn previously served as crew chief for Truex from 2015 to 2019 leading him to 24 wins, 70 top fives, 110 top 10s, and the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series title before retiring at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
Two of Truex’s three victories at Sonoma Raceway have come with Pearn at his side (2018, 2019). In total, Truex has made 15 series starts at Sonoma posting three wins (2013, 2018, 2019), five top-fives, and six top 10s. He also leads all active drivers in laps led at the track with 213.
Another Driver Needing a Win
Kevin Harvick’s 12-year streak of making the Playoffs is in jeopardy. One of the most consistent drivers in recent NASCAR Cup Series history seems to be spinning the tires as of late. Kevin Harvick’s last win was in 2020 (Bristol) and he has dropped outside the Playoff cutline following World Wide Technology Raceway in the standings. Now, his streak of the last 12 consecutive seasons of making the Playoffs could be interrupted.
The veteran, Harvick, hasn’t missed a postseason in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2009, and he is tied with Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson for the all-time most Playoff appearances with 15 each. Hamlin and Busch have already won this season assuring they will move on to their 16th Playoff appearance, but Harvick hasn’t won yet and now find himself two points behind Tyler Reddick in the 16th and final transfer spot on points.
Harvick has won at Sonoma (2017) but finished 22nd in last season’s race. Thankfully, this season the track configuration will return to the 1.99-mile length and incorporate the ‘chute’, the same one Harvick last won on. In total, Harvick has made 20 starts at Sonoma posting one win and six top-fives.
Road Course Specialists
|Active Road Course Winners||Total Wins||Sonoma||WGI||Charlotte||Daytona||Indy||COTA||Road America|
|Martin Truex Jr||4||3||1||0||0||0||0||0|
Kyle Larson won the pole for today’s race with Chase Elliott beside him on the front row. Elliott is the active all-time road course winner with seven victories. Larson has three.
Larson is the defending champion of today’s race. The 110 laps to be run are divided into Stages of 25/30/55 laps and weather may be a factor as the race begins under overcast skies.
Michigan’s Erik Jones is 26 points out of the 16th and final playoff spot. Jones has run consistently in the top-10 the past few weeks. He will need a strong effort to get there today as he starts 33rd after a poor qualifying effort.
Sonoma is the final race on Fox Sports for this season. After the week off for Father’s Day the series returns the following week at Nashville Superspeedway NBC Sports takes over as NASCAR’s broadcast partner for the remainder of the 2022 schedule
Kyle Larson(5) jumped to the lead at the drop of the green flag, his teammate Chase Elliott(9) dropped in behind and the pair led the field as drivers scrambled for positions behind them.
Just nine laps into the event, Bubba Wallace(23) blew the engine in his race car bringing out the first caution of the day. Several drivers with ill-handling machines opted to come to pit road for service and adjustments in the hope of improving vehicle performance.
After working his way into the top-20 Erik Jones(43) spun unassisted off the course and dropped to the rear of the pack while he got turned around and back on the track.
Three laps before the end of Stage One most of the field pitted in an effort to improve track position for the start of the second Stage. Larson stayed on track to take the Stage win and the bonus points that accompany it.
Stage One Results
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Elliott, who was one of the drivers that pitted early, led the field back to the green flag. He was followed by Chris Buescher(17), Ross Chastain(1), Daniel Suarez(99), and Tyler Reddick(8). Kyle Larson restarted in 24th position.
Buescher dogged Elliott through every corner during the first half of the Stage as they separated themselves from the remaining of the field. Over the same time frame, Larson moved from back in the pack into the top-15 turning laps faster than the leader.
Kevin Harvick(4) moved into the top-five when Chastain spun with six laps to go in the Stage, Chastain recovered quickly and only lost three positions. The racecourse remained under green. Almost everyone pitted prior to the end of the Stage including the leader.
Unfortunately, for Elliott, his crew failed to get the left rear wheel tight on the car. His crew stopped him before he got too far and had him back up into the pit stall. However, he did not back up far enough as the front of his race car remained outside of the box. The penalty, a return to pit road for a drive-through at reduced speed, cost Elliott a significant amount of track position and may have taken him out of contention for the win.
Joey Logano stayed on track to take the Stage win, grabbing the 10 bonus points and the one Playoff point awarded to Stage winners.
Stage Two Results
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Buescher held the lead on the restart but could not hold the top spot. Suarez drove to the front followed by Michael McDowell(34), Harvick, Buescher, and Brad Keselowski(6). All of the leaders are seeking their first win of the year and a ticket to the playoffs. Pole sitter Kyle Larson restarted in 12th, and Chase Elliott sat back in 34th after his crew’s mistake on pit road.
The extra laps in the Final Stage will require crews to make at least one more pit stop to make it to the end of the race. Whether that stop is under green or caution may determine who is in the best position to capture the checkered flag.
Harvick moved to the second spot briefly before Buescher found the handle and began tracking down the leaders moving to second and closing on Suarez.
Green flag pit stops began with cars back in the pack coming for service with 35 laps to go in the race. Buescher and Harvick pitted with 29 laps to go, Suarez came in one lap later.
Harvick had trouble on his pit stop and spent an extra 10 seconds getting service, costing him a lot of track position. Kyle Larson’s crew failed to get the right front wheel properly secured on his stop and the wheel flew off when he returned to the track bringing out the caution with 27 laps to go.
After the caution and all pit stops had cycled through it was Suarez back out front for the restart with Buescher in second, followed by McDowell, Ryan Blaney(12), and Austin Cindric(2).
Kyle Busch moved into the top-10 by virtue of his pit stop timing. But, he spun shortly after the green flag was displayed dropping him to the rear of the pack.
With 10 laps to go, Suarez and Buescher again had separated themselves from the rest of the field. As the laps wound down Suarez began to increase the interval over Buescher. If he can hold on, it will be Suarez’s first cup series win and will qualify him for the playoffs.
With two laps to go, AJ Allmendinger spun off the track. He was able to right the car and return to racing without the caution being displayed. Suarez’s crew breathed a sigh of relief as their driver had built a four-second lead on Buescher in second.
Car owner Justin Marks of Trackhouse Racing can now celebrate both of his drivers qualifying for the playoffs as Suarez held on for the win joining teammate Ross Chastain as a winner during the 2022 season.
Daniel Suarez’s win proved to be costly for the drivers hanging around the bubble for the final playoff spot. He entered the race 60 points out of the top-16, with Suarez now locked in the spots available to drivers hoping to point their way into the playoffs were reduced to four.
With a strong fourth-place finish, Kevin Harvick moved back into the 16th position. He sits just two points ahead of teammate Aric Almirola who dropped out of the top-16 for the first time this year.
Teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon now sit 29 and 34 points back respectively. Along with Michigan’s Erik Jones, 42 points back, the trio may need a win to qualify.
Since the introduction of the current playoff format, it has always been said; “Win and You’re In.” With 12 winners this year already it is possible that five more new winners could prove that statement false. Each time a new face appears in victory lane the available playoff spots for non-winners get reduced.
Another wrinkle to the qualifying process is that the regular-season points leader gets an automatic invite to the post-season. Ryan Blaney, a non-winner so far in 2022, is third in the standings currently. He trails points leader Chase Elliott by just 26 points and could become a spoiler in the process if he makes up that difference. A first-time win this season from anyone in the top-30 will result in further chaos in the standings.
Non-winners in 2022 outside of the top-20 include Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer, and Brad Keselowski.
|1||Ross Chastain||520||In Win(2)|
|2||Joey Logano||487*||In Win(2)|
|3||William Byron||466||In Win(2)|
|4||Denny Hamlin||325||In Win(2)|
|5||Chase Elliott||536||In Win|
|6||Kyle Busch||505||In Win|
|7||Kyle Larson||466||In Win|
|8||Alex Bowman||460||In Win|
|9||Chase Briscoe||386*||In Win|
|10||Austin Cindric||362*||In Win|
|11||Daniel Suarez||359||In Win|
|12||Kurt Busch||352||In Win|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.||481||+73|
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway
|25||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||54.062||110|
|26||19||Martin Truex Jr.||56.999||110|