The Toyota Savemart 350 marks the first of two trips to a road course for the Sprint Cup Series. The Sonoma Raceway (more recently known as Infineon Raceway and formerly Sears Point) will test drivers’ ability to keep it together for 10 turns that wind through the hills of Sonoma. This weekend’s race is the first road course race for the gen 6 car and we will get a firsthand look at whether or not this car is capable of producing good racing at a road course.
Starting this year, NASCAR is adopting a new qualifying process similar to the one used for Nationwide road courses. According to Jayski.com, “Cars attempting to qualify will be divided into groups. The number of groups, and amount of cars in each, will depend on the number of cars that practice for the event. A car's best lap time during the group session will be the qualifying lap time of record.” This change was made to enhance the at track experience for the fans.
Last year, Clint Bowyer won his first career road course race by holding off Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart on a green white checkered finish. The nearly two mile course has been notorious for causing drivers’ tempers to flare and there is no shortage of action. Whether that means drivers spinning each other out, cutting each other off or making desperate passes for position. In the last eight races at Sonoma, there have been eight different winners. Will there be a ninth different winner this weekend? Here are a few drivers who could keep that trend going.
Ambrose has been known for his road course prowess. Last year’s race at Sonoma saw Ambrose start from the pole and his two career wins in the Sprint Cup Series came at the other road course; Watkins Glen. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Ambrose win the pole for a second consecutive year and even win from the pole this weekend.
This is an extremely bold pick but one I am willing to make. Kenseth has been a decent road course racer at best and has historically done much better at Watkins Glen than at Sonoma (four top ten’s at the Glen vs. one top ten at Sonoma). With that being said, Kenseth is with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Will new equipment enable Kenseth to run better at road courses? We will find out Sunday and I believe he will at the very least get his second top ten at Sonoma.
This is a dark horse pick. Vickers only has one top five to speak of, but that top five came last year with the exact same team he will be running with this week. Vickers will be piloting the #55 Toyota Camry for Michael Waltrip Racing and is going to try to prove that last year was no fluke. Don’t forget the MWR car of Clint Bowyer won last year’s race!
My pick for this weekend is going to be Marcos Ambrose. As I mentioned earlier, he won the pole last year and aside from his first start at Sonoma which was a DNF, Ambrose has four consecutive top ten finishes, two of those finishing in the top five. I’d consider picking one of the road course ringers (Ron Fellows, Boris Said), but they never seem to have the equipment to mount a good enough charge to contend for a win.
Qualifying will be held Saturday at 2:05 eastern and one Sunday the green flag is set to drop at 3:19 eastern time.