The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was off last week in observance of Father’s Day. This week, the drivers will attempt to conquer the longest track on the schedule. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 takes place at Sonoma Raceway in California and features 85 laps around the 2.52-mile road course. There are 12 turns and the drivers will mark the 50th anniversary of the track by doing the entire circuit.
That means that we could have a lot of interesting results and some very fascinating racing this week. Odds for the race are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and are down below the comment box for mobile viewers.
The Carousel Course
For the first time since 1998, the Carousel will be back in the race. The Carousel, which encompasses turns 4 through 7, “navigates a 200-degree radius turn” according to NASCAR.com. Fans have been clamoring for something different. The 1.5-mile races have become boring and short track racing has increased in popularity.
This track will feature some very aggressive racing. All road courses do, as the drivers have to be really calculated with their passing attempts and we could see a lot lead changes with mechanical failures and other things. Not all drivers like road courses. The 2017 race had a bunch of road course ringers, but the 2018 race did not. There aren’t any listed on the odds board this time around.
It will be worth watching closely during qualifying and practice rounds to see how the drivers acclimate themselves to the Carousel. No active driver was racing back in 1998 when the Carousel was in use.
The Playoff Push
This is the 16th race of 26 scheduled for the regular season, so I guess it’s safe to say that the playoff push is on. Joey Logano scored the win two weeks ago at Michigan and retook the points lead from Kyle Busch. Logano has two wins and Busch has three. Brad Keselowski also has three and sits a distant third in points. Kevin Harvick remains winless, but he’s fourth. Chase Elliott has one win and sits fifth.
Martin Truex Jr. and his three wins are sixth. Denny Hamlin is seventh with his two wins. Nobody else has a win, so the playoffs would go Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Jimmie Johnson if they were to start today.
This is the first road course of the season and the first real chance for somebody outside of the top 16 to sneak up and grab a playoff spot or for somebody on the bubble to lock up a spot with a win.
Is This The Week?
Kevin Harvick may sit fourth in points, but he hasn’t found himself in the winner’s circle this season. Despite his hard luck and misfortune, he’s the early-week favorite at +380. The Bakersfield, CA native has one win to his name at Sonoma and two runner-up finishes. He’s also been third twice. That win came back in 2017 and, ironically, was his first win of the season. He also had five top-five finishes before that win, much like he does this year. Harvick hasn’t had much luck at Watkins Glen and was ninth on the Roval at Charlotte last year, but he likes this road course for some reason.
Martin Truex Jr. won this race last year and led the most laps in 2017, but finished 37th. He’s the second favorite on the board at +475. Truex seems to have a knack for road courses, with a second and a win the last two years at Watkins Glen. With his last two runs at Sonoma, he’d be my preferred pick among the favorites and I’d even consider him in matchups against Harvick. He also won here back in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing.
Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott are all +660. Bowyer has finished third, second, and third over the last four years and actually won this race back in 2012. Since his Sonoma debut in 2016, Bowyer has eight top-five finishes. Busch doesn’t have that level of success, but he did win here in 2015 and hasn’t finished worse than seventh since 2014. Elliott is the surprising one to me. He won at Watkins Glen last year and did lead the most laps. He was also fourth at Sonoma last season. I’m just not sure I can trust him with these other guys around that price point.
Kurt Busch and Joey Logano at +1100 this week. Logano only has two career top-five finishes at Sonoma and they came in 2015 and 2016. He does have a win and a runner-up at Watkins Glen. Busch has missed the top-five the last three years, but was second in 2015 and won this race in 2011. Since his Sonoma debut in 2001, he has seven top-five finishes, but he’s not the driver he used to be.
Some long shots might not be bad this week with the road course and the challenges it presents. Denny Hamlin is 15/1, with Brad Keselowski at 18/1, and the rest of the field at +2750 or higher.
Look, there are a lot of things we can’t really account for in these road course races. There are bound to be mechanical issues that could create pile-ups. There are going to be spin outs in passing spots. It will be a tough, hard-fought race.
It’s hard to go against Truex, though. Even though he’s at a short price and these road course races can be unpredictable, especially with the circuit changes, he’s been good here and even won with a lesser team in 2013. As far as a long shot, Kyle Larson has won the pole position here in back-to-back years. Who knows if he will this time and he hasn’t done anything with it, but a 40/1 ticket on him is not a bad investment.