NASCAR Weekend Preview: Sonoma Raceway & Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 25: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, leads the field to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 25, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr. returns to Sonoma as two-time defending winner 

If your name isn’t Truex, Busch or Harvick, you haven’t won a NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma Raceway in the past decade.

NASCAR’s premier division returns to the 2.52-mile road course north of San Francisco for the first time since 2019, given that the scheduled 2020 race there was squelched by the coronavirus pandemic.

The leading active winner at Sonoma with three victories, Martin Truex Jr. has triumphed in the last two events there and will look for a third straight in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

“We’ve been going there a long time, obviously, and been able to figure out some tricks and some things that work for me and really just dial the car in to the way I like to approach the track and the things I look for in a car,” said Truex, who is coming off a disappointing 29th-place finish in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

“We’ve been lucky to have great teams and great race cars out there at Sonoma. For whatever reason, it’s just been a really good place for us. We need to get some momentum back, and this would be a good place to do it this weekend.”

Kyle Busch has two wins at the Sonoma road course, and Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick have accounted for one each. Among active Cup drivers, Truex, the Busch brothers and Harvick are the only former winners at the track in the field for Sunday’s race.

But Truex is the only current Cup driver who has won a race on the 2.52-mile configuration of the course, with the addition of Turns 5 and 6 replacing the short straight between Turns 4 and 7 in 2019. Turns 5 and 6 collectively make up the “Carousel,” a sweeping 200-degree radius corner that will have most drivers on edge as they navigate the difficult stretch of track.

“One of the toughest turns now is that Carousel,” says Californian Cole Custer, who has never raced a Cup car at Sonoma but who finished fourth in a 2019 K&N Pro Series West race on the new configuration. “I think it’s just a really awkward corner, and it doesn’t feel like a corner a race car should be going through.

“It’s really tight, really downhill, off-camber. It’s just a really tough corner, and it’s something that you never go through there and feel like you did it right. It never feels natural, so it’s one of those things you just kind of have to hit your marks and make sure you don’t overdo it through there.”

Chase Elliott comes to Sonoma as the undisputed master of NASCAR Cup Series road course races over the past three seasons. The reigning series champion got his first Cup victory at Watkins Glen in 2018. Six of his 12 wins have come on road courses, most recently in the inaugural Cup race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Sonoma, however, is a riddle Elliott has yet to solve. In four starts at the technical track, Elliott has a best finish of ninth twice, in 2018 and 2019.

“Sonoma is a place that I haven’t done a very good job in the past,” Elliott says. “It’s been a pretty big challenge for me. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been there, so it’s been a while.

“When we were there in 2019, I felt like we were doing a great job and in a good position before we had our mechanical issue, so I’m looking forward to getting back and having another shot at it.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to Mid-Ohio after one-year absence

AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric are a pair of bookends at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Driving the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, Allmendinger won the inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race there in 2013. Cindric, the reigning series champion, is the most recent winner there, also in a No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

Cindric’s victory came in 2019, before adjustments to the Xfinity Series schedule necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic removed Mid-Ohio from the 2020 slate of events.

Cindric and Allmendinger—the latter now driving the No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing—are both expected to contend for the victory in Saturday’s B&L Transport 170 at the 2.258-mile road course (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Because of the difficulty in passing on the tight, technical course, Allmendinger favors an aggressive approach.

“You’ve got to make your own passing zones,” Allmendinger says. “It’s for sure a challenge to pass at this race track. With an Xfinity car, with the way the tires go away, from start to finish you get a big difference in lap times from the start of a run to the end of a run, so it gets a little easier to pass.

“If you get through Turn 1, you can get a good run up toward Turn 2, and you can make a passing zone out of that. At the end of the back straightaway, there’s a good passing zone there as well. In the infield, you’re kind of single file, (but) with our cars, you have the luxury of being able to use the bumpers a little bit and being able to force somebody into a mistake, if that’s what you have to do.”

Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports is the only other former Mid-Ohio winner in the field for Saturday’s race, having taken the checkered flag in the 75-lap event in 2018.  Another potential contender is road course ace Miguel Paludo, who will drive the No. 8 JRM Chevrolet on Saturday.

“I’ve always really enjoyed racing at Mid-Ohio,” Allgaier says. “It’s a challenging-but-fun road course. We had a strong run just a couple weeks ago on the road course at COTA (a third-place finish), and I feel extremely confident that we will have that same kind of speed with our Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet on Saturday.

“It’s a big weekend for (sponsor) Brandt with Miguel back in the No. 8, so hopefully we can both have a strong day and battle it out for the win in the end.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350

The Place: Sonoma Raceway

The Date: Sunday, June 6

The Time: 4 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 2:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 226.8 miles (90 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 90)

What To Watch For: Sonoma 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 driving a Buick for car owner Kenny Bernstein. Rudd dominated the race leading 61 of the 74 scheduled laps. … Sonoma Raceway’s 31 NASCAR Cup Series races have produced 18 different pole winners and 19 different race winners. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon leads the series in both poles (five: 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005) and wins (five: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006). … Hendrick Motorsport’s driver and most recent Coca-Cola 600 winner, Kyle Larson, leads all active drivers in the series in poles at Sonoma with three (2017, 2018, 2019). … Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. leads all active drivers in wins at Sonoma with three (2013, 2018, 2019). … The youngest Sonoma Cup winner is Kyle Busch (06/22/2008 – 23 years, 1 months, 20 days) and the oldest is Ricky Rudd (06/23/2002 – 45 years, 9 months, 11 days). … Five of the 31 NASCAR Cup Series races at Sonoma Raceway have been won from the pole or first starting position. The most recent driver to win from the pole at Sonoma was NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon in 2004. … NASCAR has competed on two different configurations at Sonoma Raceway. The 2018 race marked the final race for “The Chute”, which was introduced in 1998 and shortened the track to 1.949 miles and eliminated the famous Carousel. The Carousel, which will be in use again this year, returned to the track layout in 2019 and brings the length of the track to 2.52 miles. … Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Rudd are the only two drivers to win NASCAR Cup Series races on both layouts.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: B&L Transport 170

The Place: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

The Date: Saturday, June 5

The Time: 1 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 12 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 169.35 miles (75 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 75)

What To Watch For: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has hosted seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races dating back to the inaugural event on August 17, 2013. The first Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio was won by A.J. Allmendinger driving for Team Penske. … The seven Xfinity races have produced four different pole winners, led by Sam Hornish Jr. with three poles (2014, 2016, 2017). … Austin Cindric leads all active Xfinity Series drivers in poles at Mid-Ohio with two (2018, 2019). … The seven Xfinity races at Mid-Ohio have also produced seven different winners – AJ Allmendinger (2013), Chris Buescher (2014), Regan Smith (2015), Justin Marks (2016), Sam Hornish Jr. (2017), Justin Allgaier (2018) and Austin Cindric (2019). … Jeremy Clements in the only driver to make all seven NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Mid-Ohio. … Chris Buescher (2014) and Justin Marks (2016) both won their first NASCAR national series race in the Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio. …  The youngest Xfinity winner at Mid-Ohio is Austin Cindric (08/10/2019 – 20 years, 11 months, 8 days) and the oldest is Sam Hornish Jr. (08/12/2017 – 38 years, 1 months, 10 days). … Two of the seven NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Mid-Ohio have been won from the pole or first starting position; the most recent was Austin Cindric’s 2019 win.