NASCAR Weekend Preview: Sonoma Raceway

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 11: Denny Hamlin (#11 Joe Gibbs Racing Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota) and Tyler Reddick (#45 23XI Racing The Beast Unleashed Toyota) lead the field during warmup laps prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 11, 2023, at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


A couple former Cup champions are looking for their first win of the season

This Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Sonoma Raceway marks the second road course event of the year and several of NASCAR’s best at that brand of racing arrive in Northern California’s scenic wine country still looking for their first victory of the 2024 season.

Last week Team Penske’s Austin Cindric scored a huge win at World Wide Technology Raceway, driving to victory when his teammate, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney ran out of gas with a lap remaining, surrendering the race lead and ultimately the trophy and a Playoff position to Cindric.

Two of Penske’s champion drivers, Blaney and two-time series champ Joey Logano are among a legitimate A-List still racing for their first trophies, 15 races into the 2024 season. Both have road course wins on their resume – Logano at Watkins Glen, N.Y. and Blaney on the Charlotte ROVAL – so Sonoma presents a legitimate opportunity.

The defending Sonoma race winner, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, three of the best road course drivers in the field are also among those still competing for their first victory of the season. Add second-year JGR driver Ty Gibbs – who earned four road course wins in the Xfinity Series – to that list and it sets up a rather intense Sunday afternoon in wine country.

Among that group of favorites, Truex certainly holds the most Sonoma cred. Not only is he the defending winner but he’s earned three trophies in the last five years and has four overall there. In 2018-19, he became the first driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (1998-2000) to win consecutive races at the 1.99-mile, 12-turn course.

“It’s a lot different with the repave, but I’m hoping it’s our normal deal out there and we have a chance to win again,” Said Truex, who sits its fourth in points heading to Sonoma. “I think this would be the first time I would have five wins at a track if we can get it done.

“This will be a new challenge, we’ve been able to win on the normal course we’ve used, been able to win on the carousel configuration and how we have a new challenge with the repaved surface as well.”

There are 15 drivers with at least one NASCAR Cup Series road course victory on the grid Sunday – and five of them who compete fulltime in the series, are still looking for their first win of the season.

In 2024, the NASCAR Cup Series races at only four traditional road courses – plus the Chicago Street Race – so for those who particularly excel turning right and left, Sonoma presents a huge opportunity to secure one of the 16 Playoff positions.

Last year there were six different winners in the six road course events. Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron – who collected his first road course trophy at Watkins Glen, N.Y. last summer, won this season’s first road course race at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas in March.

Heading into Sonoma, only nine drivers have secured a Playoff spot with a win, leaving seven positions to be determined in these final 11 regular season events.

There will be a 50-minute NASCAR Cup Series practice session Friday afternoon at 5:05 p.m. ET (televised on FS1 at 8:30 p.m. ET) with two rounds of Busch Light Pole Qualifying (FS2) scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Qualifying has been a strong indicator of race performance. Only twice in 34 Sonoma races has the winner started outside the top-15. Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson has won four pole positions and would tie Hendrick executive and former driver Jeff Gordon for most all-time should he win a fifth this weekend.

Van Gisbergen leads an eager contingent of Xfinity road racers to Sonoma

The NASCAR Xfinity Series continues the “course” with its second consecutive road course race in as many weeks with Saturday’s Zip Buy Now, Pay Later 250 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Former NASCAR Cup Series full-timer Aric Almirola led 17 of the 79 laps claiming his first career road course win in Sonoma’s maiden NASCAR Xfinity Series race last year. He won’t be back to defend his trophy, but this weekend’s entry list includes a list of motivated series regulars and some big-name road course ringers.

Among those fulltime competitors, last week’s Portland winner, Shane van Gisbergen tops the list of favorites. The driver of the No. 97 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet won in his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Chicago Street Race last year and earned his first ever NASCAR Xfinity Series trophy last Saturday.

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 10: A general view of racing during the NASCAR Xfinity Series DoorDash 250 at Sonoma Raceway on June 10, 2023 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Of course, his Kaulig teammate A.J. Allmendinger – the sport’s current road course ace – will be up to challenge. Allmendinger has 17 career Xfinity wins and 11 of them were on road courses – but he has never claimed a victory sip of wine at Sonoma.

JR Motorsports boasts a lineup of road course talent from three-time road course winner Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 Chevrolet; to three-time road course winner Sam Mayer in the No. 1 Chevrolet.

Current championship leader, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer is especially good on road courses too with a pair of road course wins. Overall, there are eight former Xfinity Series road course winners racing this weekend.

“We were really strong last weekend in Portland and I feel extremely confident that we will be just as quick in Sonoma,” said Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, who led the most laps and won both stages at Portland

“We were in position for a solid top-five here last year before we had some power steering issues and I know that we will be just as capable of running even better when we get to the track on Friday. This group is ready to go and hopefully we can put on a great show for everyone.”

That “show” will certainly feature a top-notch list of drivers this weekend with several part-timers and a “long-timer” hoping to make the field.

One of those is a NASCAR all-time fan favorite, Californian Boris Said who will drive the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. A champion road course competitor in the Trans Am and IMSA ranks, Said won the 2010 Montreal road course NASCAR Xfinity Series race. This will be his first Xfinity Series start at Sonoma, but he has five top-10 finishes at the track in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Open-wheel and sports car Ed Jones is on the entry list in addition to 2022 series champion Gibbs and Nemechek, who are pulling double duty.

A 50-minute practice is slated for Friday at 4:05 p.m. ET (televised on FS1 at 5 p.m.) with Saturday qualifying at 3:30 p.m. ET (FS2) followed by the race’s green flag at 8 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Toyota / Save Mart 350
The Place: Sonoma Raceway
Track Length: 1.99 Mile Asphalt Road Course
The Date: Sunday, June 9
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,426,274
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 55), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 110)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Zip Buy Now, Pay Later 250
The Place: Sonoma Raceway
Track Length: 1.99 Mile Asphalt Road Course
The Date: Saturday, June 8
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,747,861
TV: FS1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 156.95 miles (79 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 45), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 79)