Who…gets my shoutout of the race?
He may have been visibly disappointed when the checkered flag flew, but the fact is that Denny Hamlin had a great day at Sonoma Raceway. Hamlin’s second-place run was his best-ever result at the track and the first time since 2009 that he’s finished better than 18th there. Hamlin raced Tony Stewart hard on the last lap for the win, and after coming up just short was one of the first people to congratulate Stewart in Victory Lane. All in all, Hamlin had a stellar run and displayed a lot of class in the process. It’s easy to understand why he was disappointed, but he can hold his head high after this one.
What…is the takeaway from this race?
Road-course racing has become some of the best racing in NASCAR in recent years, and Sunday’s instant classic didn’t disappoint. While road racing is different from start to finish than oval racing, it’s certainly no less exciting, and it allows some different names to grab a little bit of the spotlight to boot. As road courses have gained popularity with fans, there’s been a push to have a race in the Chase, and NASCAR’s reluctance to do so is a bit of a mystery. It seems as though it could only give the Chase a bit more credibility as a championship format, and while Brian France says it would be difficult to find a spot for a race, reality dictates that the Kansas fall date would be a good one to run at Watkins Glen International, with a cool, fast track and some beautiful fall foliage to boot. Add in what’s likely to be a more exciting race, and it’s a winning proposition all around.
Where…did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Carl Edwards’ pit strategy did not fall in his favor, and while he looked like a favorite to contend for the win, he wasn’t quite there at the end. All told, Edwards led twice for 24 laps, but didn’t have what it took to race the top three in the closing laps. His fourth–place finish is far from a bad day, though, and Edwards is already in solid position when the Chase kicks off in a couple of months.
Kyle Busch was as strong as his teammates at times, but like Edwards was just not quite a contender when it mattered. A year ago, Busch rolled into Victory Lane in almost identical fashion to Tony Stewart this Sunday: back in the game after an injury but desperately in need of a win to give him any hope of title contention in the fall. This time, Busch ran seventh after leading just two laps.
When…did it all go sideways?
While there are certainly teams who would like another crack at Sonoma, overall there was little to complain about in the big picture. There was hard racing from beginning to end, though judging by the radio chatter, the television cameras again missed a lot of the hotter action. The final lap was pure NASCAR gold with Tony Stewart, the sentimental favorite for many fans, taking the white flag only to slip up on the final lap, allowing Denny Hamlin to pounce. Then. just when you thought Hamlin would drive away and leave Smoke fuming, Stewart dove deep into the final turn to slide by Hamlin as both slid across the track on worn tires. It was the kind of racing the sport was born on, Sunday was one for the ages with all the ingredients of a great story to be told for years to come.
Why…did Tony Stewart win the race?
At the end of the day, he wanted it more. A lot of drivers might have settled for second with fading tires and Denny Hamlin trying to drive away after a daring pass on the last lap, but Stewart isn’t most drivers. He laid back coming to turn 10, knowing he’d need to get inside of Hamlin to have a shot at the spot, and got the perfect entrance to the corner that he needed. It was hard, clean racing, though Hamlin did make contact with the outside wall—Stewart didn’t wreck Hamlin or cost him second place, just as Hamlin didn’t wreck him earlier in the lap. Stewart reminded viewers why he should be remembered as one of the best racers in history, claiming his 49th Cup win in the last season of what will certainly be a Hall of Fame career.
How…did the little guys do?
The three best:
AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing: AJ Allmendinger is one of the top road racers in NASCAR right now, but Sonoma has been his Achilles’ heel. Allmendinger had a great start to the weekend, qualifying second and then taking the lead with a bold move on Carl Edwards on lap nine, leading 16 laps. All told, Allmendinger led four times for a total of 20 circuits, but a costly pit penalty for an uncontrolled tire left him in 35th for what would be the final restart. He worked his way back to 14th, impressive in itself, but was left to wonder what might have been if he’d restarted in the top 10 where he’d been all day.
At the checkered flag @AJDinger crosses the line P14. Tough end to a very promising day. Thanks to everyone for following along.
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) June 26, 2016
— JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) June 26, 2016
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing: Ryan Blaney struggled a bit in his first road course race of the year and first at Sonoma, but his day wasn’t a wash by any stretch. Blaney ran in the top 20 for a good portion of the day and at one point broke into the top 10, but he faded to finish 23rd. All in all, it was a good learning experience for the rookie driver, and the team wasn’t disappointed with the finish.
P23. Checker. Good job for 1st time here. Thanks to all our Twitter Buddies !
— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) June 26, 2016
Casey Mears, Germain Racing: Casey Mears had a better car than his 24th-place finish indicates, but the No. 13 team’s bad luck wasn’t quite ready to pack up and leave at Sonoma. Mears had a good qualifying run and one of the fastest cars in practice, but was unable to capitalize. During the race, Mears said he had good speed but wasn’t able to gain ground in the corners. The team’s strategy play to stay out longer than other teams late in the day didn’t play out well and cost Mears four or five spots at the end. The bright spot continues to be the team’s excellent pit work, which has been on par with the top teams all season long. Mears probably has Daytona circled on his calendar as it’s one of his best tracks, and he sorely needs to shake the black cloud that’s been over his head this year.
All the rest:
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Ralph’s / Kingsford Chevy||2nd||14th
Very strong in early going, bold pass of the lead on Edwards; complained of no grip mid-race; controlled tire penalty on final stop, restarted 35th and raced back to 14th
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft / Quick LaneFord||26th||23rd
Struggled a bit in practice and qualifying; gained several spots but was unhappy with car toward the end of runs
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||14th||24th
Early contact with Danica Patrick; fought handling midrace, questionable pit strategy cost better finish—had a better car than the finish showed
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||Nikko RC Chevy||31st||28th
Smith never seemed to get a handle on the car through the weekend but finish was overall not bad
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||MDS Transport Ford||37th||29th
Said before race road courses are a challenge; had a decent day overall
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||Love’s Travel Stops Ford||36th||30th
Fought tight condition for most of the race but salvaged a top 30
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Dustless Blasting Toyota||33rd||31st
Stayed out of trouble; not the finish they wanted, but overall an OK day
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||30th||32nd
Struggled all weekend; never really looked comfortable on track
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||RTIC Chevy||35th||34th
Finished the race on the lead lap, which for this program right now is what they need to do
|93||Dylan Lupton||BK Racing||Bell Bros. Plumbing, Heat & Air / Elk Grove Toyota||38th||35th
Solid if unspectacular performance by the rookie who came home on the lead lap
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Pilot Flying J Chevy||40th||36th
Lost a lap early; got wavearound but were not able to capitalize and wound up two laps down
|32||Patrick Carpentier||GO FAS Racing||Can-Am Ford||34th||37th
Carpentier’s run illustrates continued importance of equipment in races; lost power late but got out of the way
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||39th||38th
Never had speed to compete; lost three laps and not able to make headway; day ended 13 laps short after the engine expired.
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||KLOVE Radio Chevy||20th||39th
McDowell is a good road racer. Strong qualifying effort; uncontrolled tire penalty on late stop; late gear failure ended his race with 17 to go
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5-hour Energy Chevy||18th||40th
Qualified well; day ended by electrical fire. Small issues are building up for HSM
|55||Cody Ware||Premium Motorsports||Chevy||DNQ||—||—||N/A|