Sonoma & Gateway Weekend Preview

Road-course maven Allmendinger attempts to crack Chase at Sonoma

Win and you’re in.

That’s the ticket to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – and a phrase AJ Allmendinger knows as well as anyone.

The road-course ace scored a surprise victory in 2014 at Watkins Glen International to capture his first-ever Chase berth and first career win. Last year, he was favored at both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road courses – Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen – after winning their poles, but failed to reach Victory Lane and missed out on NASCAR’s playoffs.

Allmendinger, from nearby San Jose, California, returns to Sonoma for Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) focused on earning one of the remaining six Chase spots.

“Sonoma Raceway is a place where the last two years we’ve been really fast, but have had some bad luck, or self-induced luck,” Allmendinger said. “We’ve been fast enough the last few races. However you want to look at it, we haven’t gotten the job done. Sonoma and Watkins Glen International were always the races that we circled on the calendar to know that those are going to be the chances to win to get in The Chase.”

In seven starts at Sonoma, Allmendinger claims only two top 10s, but has been hurt by bad luck in the last two races there, placing 37th in both. In addition to winning the pole at the 1.99-mile track least season, he started second there in 2014.

On Sunday, the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing driver will attempt to become the 11th winner in the last 12 Sonoma races.

Allmendinger sits 19th on the Chase Grid, 27 points behind 16th-place Ryan Blaney for the final berth in NASCAR’s playoffs. With Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne between him and Blaney, as well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tied with him, a win is Allmendinger’s best shot at landing a bid to The Chase.

“I love Sonoma Raceway; it’s a special place,” Allmendinger said. “You try not to have any race be more special than others, but I would love to go there and win a race. Beggars can’t be choosers, but it’s a hometown race for me and one of my biggest sponsors The Clorox Company… It’s where I grew up so it would be a very big deal if I won there. It would be pretty special.”

Custer eyes Gateway repeat, Chase berth

Maybe a shake-up is all Cole Custer needs to perform to his potential in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

In his first race with new crew chief Marcus Richmond, the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history registered a season-high runner-up finish last Saturday at Iowa – his second top-five and third top-10 showing of the season.

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 20 2014:  Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
LOUDON, NH – SEPTEMBER 20 2014: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“We are definitely headed in the right direction,” said Custer, 18, who ranks 11th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, 14 points behind eighth-place Ben Kennedy for the final spot in the series’ Chase.

Although he’s behind in points, a victory would automatically qualify Custer for the seven-race Chase. He has eight contests left to complete the task, beginning with Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 brought to you by Altec at Gateway Motorsports Park (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) where he is the defending race winner.

In Custer’s only other start at Gateway (2014), he became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR national series history and finished sixth.

“Coming into Gateway, we’re always looking to win,” Custer said. “We are just trying to get our stuff better and we know there are a lot of things that we can get better on the Haas Automation Silverado. I think you’re going to see that in the next few weeks.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Toyota / Save Mart 350

Place: Sonoma Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, June 26 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps)

What To Watch For: Tony Stewart, the active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader in road-course victories with seven, tries to win his third career race at Sonoma and earn a Chase berth. … Kyle Busch returns to Sonoma as the defending race winner. He jumpstarted his run to the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at the 1.99-mile track with his first win since breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot just four months earlier. … Ten different drivers have visited Victory Lane in the last 11 races at Sonoma. … Chase Elliott hopes he can continue has banner rookie start. He’s produced 11 tops 10s and six top fives through the first 15 races this season. … Nine Californians are on Sunday’s entry list. … Canadian Patrick Carpentier makes his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start since 2011. … Six Chase berths remain with 11 races left until NASCAR’s playoffs. A driver is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase with a regular season win.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Drivin’ for Linemen 200 brought to you by Altec

Place: Gateway Motorsports Park

Date and Time: Saturday, June 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 200 miles (160 laps)

What To Watch For: Series wins leader William Byron goes for his third straight victory and fourth overall this season. … Eight races remain until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. Four Chase berths are left for the eight-driver playoffs. … Tyler Reddick, who spent six years as a teenager living in nearby Du Quoin, Illinois (85 miles from Gateway) tries for his fourth consecutive top-five finish.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.