The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the wine country in Sonoma for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 this weekend.
Since NASCAR first came to the twisting 1.99 mile, 10-turn road course in 1989, Sonoma Raceway has become synonymous with fender-bending, paint-rubbing action that some drivers love and others despise.
The track has provided plenty of parity, producing eight different winners in the last eight races.
A.J. Allmendinger, of nearby Los Gatos, enters as one of the favorites this weekend. He has started in the top-two the last three races at Sonoma and picked up his lone NASCAR victory at Watkins Glen in 2014, the only other road course on the Cup schedule.
“Sonoma is a real technical racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “It’s like a short track. You are beating and banging on each other. You can make passes there and the tires go away quick, but if you can conserve the tires better you can make passes. It’s a challenging racetrack.”
Late race yellows have often determined the winner at Sonoma, giving or ruining track position for drivers depending on when and if a caution comes out late in the race.
“The strategy has got you wondering when that last yellow is going to fall. If that yellow falls, do you pit, do you not pit?” Allmendinger said. “It’s a challenge from start to finish because the opportunity is there to make a lot of mistakes and slide off the racetrack or to run into each other, which makes for great racing. In the end, I think it puts on one of the best races.”
It will also be the last California appearance for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be retiring at the end of the 2017 season. Along with Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, the loss of Earnhardt will be the third major star to leave the sport in the last couple of seasons.
One up and coming driver that is looking to fill their void is 24-year-old Kyle Larson of Elk Grove.
Larson led a race-high 96 laps on his way to his second win of the season in last Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. In the process, he passed Martin Truex Jr. for the points lead and now holds a five-marker advantage over him.
The Target/Ganassi Chevrolet driver is enjoying a breakout season in his fourth full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign posting seven top-two finishes in 15 starts this year
Sunday’s 110-lap Toyota/Save Mart 350 begins at noon and will be broadcast on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Qualifying will take place on Saturday beginning at 11:45 a.m. and will be followed by the Carneros 200 K&N Pro West Series race which is schedule to begin at 1:30 p.m.
The 1998 K&N Pro Series West champion, Kevin Harvick, will join recent first-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner Ryan Blaney and current Monster Energy Series rookie Daniel Suarez are in the field for the Carneros 200.
Two-time defending Red Bull Global Rallycross champion Scott Speed saw his lead in the 2017 points disappear when he suffered an engine failure and failed to start in Race 1 of last weekend’s doubleheader in Ottawa, Canada.
The Manteca native rebounded in Race 2 on Sunday by making a last lap pass to salvage second place behind his Volkswagen Andretti Autosport teammate Tanner Foust.
After six rounds in the championship Foust now holds a 418-391 points lead over Saturday’s race winner Steve Arpin while Speed sits in third with 381.
The series heads next to Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis for Round 7, July 8-9.
Racing returns to the 99 Speedway on Saturday, July 1 with leg 2 of the Tri-Holiday Classic featuring the Pacific Challenge Series Late Models in the Ron Strmiska Memorial 125, the Stockton Late Models, Bombers and Grand American Modifieds.