The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Sonoma Raceway June 26 for the Toyota / Save Mart 350. Sonoma is the first of two road-course circuits NASCAR will compete at this season.
Sonoma, Calif., is home to one of the most unique race tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. When teams embark on the 2.5-mile road course, normal strategy goes out the window. Since 2009, Victory Lane has been home to seven different drivers, spread among four manufacturers.
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when constructing your Sonoma Draftkings lineup.
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Kurt Busch ($10,700) FPPR: 46.4 – Career at Sonoma: 15 races, one win, seven top 5s, seven top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 14.8
In the last five races at Sonoma, Kurt Busch has only finished outside the top 5 once (12th in 2014). Sonoma is one of Busch’s most consistent tracks, including a win back in 2011. He currently leads the field in top 10s (13) and is second in average finish at 8.5. Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson are currently hitting on all cylinders and are a strong favorite to take the checkers first on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,100) FPPR 40.3 – Career at Sonoma: 14 races, one win, four top 5s, nine top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 12.4
Jimmie Johnson’s last finish outside the top 10 at Sonoma came back in 2008 when he finished 15th. At a track where fuel mileage and tire wear could hinder the results for many in the field, the No. 48 team is the best in NASCAR when it comes to decisions on the pit stand. Johnson is a threat to win on any given Sunday.
Kevin Harvick ($10,400) FPPR: 67.2 – Career at Sonoma: 15 races, four top 5s, six top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 15.1
Sonoma is one of the few tracks at which Kevin Harvick has failed to pick up a win in his Sprint Cup Series career. Harvick is currently atop the series standings and has seven top-5 finishes in 15 races. Harvick’s fourth place bid a year ago marks his best finish at Sonoma since finishing third in 2010.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,500 – $9,999
Kyle Busch ($9,800) FPPR: 46.5 – Career at Sonoma: 11 races, two wins, two top 5s, three top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 19.1
This could be the cheapest price we see for Kyle Busch all season. Busch has been all boom or all bust in 2016. In the previous four races this season, he has finished in 30th, 33rd, 31st and 40th. In the three races before those, he finished second twice and picked up a win. Busch currently leads the series in wins (three) but hasn’t finished a race inside the top 29 since his win at Kansas in early May. At a track where he does have career success, Busch deserves a strong look when filling out your lineup.
AJ Allmendinger ($9,600) FPPR: 29.4 – Career at Sonoma: seven races, one pole, two top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 21.9
While the results of the last two Sonoma races may not agree (two 37th-place finishes), AJ Allmendinger is the resident road course expert. In both of those bouts, Allmendinger started on the front row, including on the pole last season. The difference this season is that Allmendinger is sitting only 27 points behind the Chase cutoff and doesn’t necessarily need the win to get in. He has spoken publicly about running too aggressively in the past and making mistakes to cost himself a good finish. With the comfort level of the points race, he will not need to be all-in and can afford to let up on the aggression.
Tony Stewart ($8,900) FPPR: 21.9 – Career at Sonoma: two wins, five top 5s, nine top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 12.4
Although the bulk of Tony Stewart’s success at Sonoma came back when he drove for Joe Gibbs Racing from 1999-2008, he is still a dark horse favorite to finish in the top 15 this weekend. In order to make the playoffs, Stewart needs to win a race and finish in the top 30 in points. Expect him to be aggressive in getting toward the front early.
Honorable Mentions: Joey Logano ($9,500), Martin Truex, Jr ($9,300)
MID TIER: $7,500 – $8,499
Brad Keselowski: ($8,100) FPPR: 44.3 – Career at Sonoma: six races, one top 10
Average finish at Sonoma: 19.8
Brad Keselowski may be the hottest driver in NASCAR right now, but he is heading to a track where he has not had much success. In six races at Sonoma, Keselowski has cracked the top 15 only twice. He is coming off six straight top-10 finishes on the season, including a win at Talladega Superspeedway. The ever-improving, but always-controversial Keselowski deserves a look with the low price of $8,100. It is not often that the driver sitting at third in the standings can be bought that cheaply.
Clint Bowyer: ($7,700) FPPR: 30.2 – Career at Sonoma: 10 races, one win, six top 5s, eight top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 8.6
Clint Bowyer fans are hoping driver skill outweighs poor equipment this weekend at Sonoma. There is not another active driver with more overall success at Sonoma than Bowyer. Bowyer has failed to finish within the top 10 in only two of his 10 career starts. The only hindrance to locking him in as a top-10 pick this week is the fact that he is running in low-level racing equipment.
Ryan Newman: ($7,500) FPPR: 26 – Career at Sonoma: 14 races, two top 5s, six top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 12.6
Ryan Newman has finished inside the top 25 in all 14 career starts at Sonoma. Newman’s ninth-place finish in 2015 marked his third consecutive top-15 finish at the track. 2016 has been quietly consistent for Newman, where he slots at the 15th spot in the series standings. Newman is still winless during his tenure at Richard Childress Racing, but has made the Chase on points alone in both seasons.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Larson ($8,300), Jamie McMurray ($7,800)
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,499
Greg Biffle: ($6,700) FPPR: 21.7 – Career at Sonoma: 13 races, two top 5s, six top 10s
Average finish at Sonoma: 14.8
With exception of 2015, Greg Biffle has a top 10 finish in each of the last four races at Sonoma. In typical 2016 Roush Fenway Racing fashion, Biffle has had speed throughout race weekends, but has failed to work himself into a top-10 finish. Sonoma has been kind to him in the past and could be the best chance for him to finish toward the front of the pack.
Paul Menard: ($6,900) FPPR 22.8 – Career at Sonoma: eight races, one top 5, one top 10
Average finish at 18.2
Paul Menard looks to keep his Sonoma streak of five consecutive top-20 finishes intact this weekend. The streak includes a fifth-place finish in 2014 and a 13th-place nod last season. Menard, known for his success at restrictor plate tracks, has shown versatility in 2016. An eighth-place finish at Martinsville and a top 15 finish at four non-plate tracks thus far have proven that Menard and the No. 27 team has what it takes to bring home a solid finish.
Casey Mears: ($5,800) FPPR 18.5 – Career at Sonoma: 12 starts, one top 5, two top 10s
Average Finish at Sonoma: 20.3
Casey Mears was running just outside the top 15 when he lost the rear end of his car late in the race in 2015. Before the incident, Mears was looking for his fourth straight top-16 finish at Sonoma. Mears has been atrocious for much of this season, which results in the dirt-cheap price of $5,800. If there were ever a time for Mears to bounce back, it is this week.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Blaney ($7,200)
-There will be three road course specialists making their 2016 Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend: Patrick Carpentier ($6,000) for Go FAS Racing, Dylan Lupton ($5,700) for BK Racing, and Cody Ware for Premium Motorsports.