Sonoma-Iowa Weekend Preview: Road course ace Allmendinger goes for first win at Sonoma

Considered NASCAR’s top road course racer, AJ Allmendinger has dazzled in qualifying at Sonoma Raceway with three top-two starts in as many years – but his results don’t match his speed.

Allmendinger entered all three races as the favorite to win, but finished 14th last year, 37th in 2015 and 37th in 2016. Despite the tough finishes, he’s led a series-high 56 laps across the three contests. The Chevrolet driver was doomed by a pit road penalty that cost him the opportunity to win last season, a fuel system issue in 2015 and damage to his car in 2014.

A native of nearby Los Gatos, California, Allmendinger will try to turn his Sonoma luck around in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1).

“It’s a place I truly love,” Allmendinger said. “It’s my home race. We haven’t really capitalized yet in a three-year span. Hopefully, we can do that this weekend.”

Allmendinger currently sits 26th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 196 points behind Matt Kenseth for the final playoff spot, but can earn a berth in the postseason with a win on Sunday. In fact, he achieved the feat in 2014 when he won at the Watkins Glen International road course after entering the race 25th in the standings.

“We’ve got to clean up our own mistakes and make sure we are on point,” Allmendinger said. “If you can conserve rear tires – if you can do that – you have a great shot to win the race. We hope to go into Sonoma strong and come out on top.”

Byron hopes to bounce back at Iowa

Heartbreak summed up William Byron’s Saturday at Michigan International Speedway last week.

DOVER, DE – JUNE 03: William Byron, driver of the #9 Liberty University Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR XFINITY Series OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway on June 3, 2017 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

The 19-year-old JR Motorsports driver looked on his way his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win when Denny Hamlin passed him on the final lap for the victory. Byron finished second by a miniscule .012 seconds.

He’ll attempt to bounce back in Saturday’s American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). Byron won at Iowa in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last season after leading a race-high 107 laps.

“I am really looking forward to this weekend’s race in Iowa,” Byron said. “I won the [Camping World] Truck race there last year, so I kind of know the track. That was what helped me in Michigan last week, just knowing the track and how it was going to race. Going to a track where I have won at or run well at before, really helps me know what I want in my car.”

Nemechek goes for second straight win

MADISON, IL – JUNE 17: John Hunter Nemechek, driver of the #8 Chevrolet Silverado, celebrates with his team after winning the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park on June 17, 2017 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)

A proven winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finally visited Victory Lane after a tough start to the season.

John Hunter Nemechek passed two-time series champion Matt Crafton with five laps left to win last Saturday’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park – his fourth career victory.

Nemechek’s triumph followed a stretch of three consecutive finishes worse than 20th.

The 20-year-old NASCAR Next alum will go for his second straight win in Friday’s M&M’s 200 presented by Casey’s General Store at Iowa Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). In three career starts at Iowa, Nemechek has a high showing of 10th and a 15.0 average finish. He won the pole there last year.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Iowa this weekend,” Nemechek said. “It’s a really fun race track. We ran really well there last year, qualifying on the pole, ended up leading a bunch of laps and didn’t have the finish that we wanted.”

Nemechek will pilot the same Chevrolet Silverado he won with at Gateway.

“We’re definitely looking forward to keeping the momentum rolling and hopefully doing a burnout on that corn start/finish line,” he said.

Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Place: Sonoma Raceway

Date and Time: Sunday, June 25 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 25), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on lap 110)

What To Watch For: Points leader Kyle Larson goes for his second straight win after visiting Victory Lane at Michigan last week. … 2013 Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s race with a series-high 20 playoff points via his two checkered flags and 10 stage wins. … Chase Elliott continues to search for his first win after finishing runner-up at Michigan. … Eight different drivers have won the last eight races at Sonoma. … Last year’s Sonoma runner-up Denny Hamlin, who won his first road course race at Watkins Glen International nearly two months later, tries to improve by one more spot.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen

Place: Iowa Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, June 24 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

What To Watch For: Elliott Sadler makes his 800th NASCAR national series start. He is one of only 29 drivers to win in all three NASCAR national series. … Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Cole Custer goes for his fifth straight top 10 finish. … Last season’s Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr. returns to the 7/8-mile track, this time competing for Team Penske.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: M&M’s 200 presented by Casey’s General Store

Place: Iowa Speedway

Date and Time: Friday, June 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 175 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What To Watch For: Chase Briscoe tries for his first win after logging two consecutive runner-up finishes. … The last two Iowa winners have been Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders – Kyle Busch Motorsports’ William Byron (2016) and Erik Jones (2015). … NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings leader Harrison Burton will pilot the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

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.