Who’s in the headline
Martin Truex Jr. has proven he knows how to road race with wins at both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road courses on the schedule. Sunday, (June 24) he made it back-to-back thanks to a victory at Sonoma after taking the win at Watkins Glen last year. That gives him three victories overall in the last 11 road course races, more than any other driver during that stretch.
AJ Allmendinger won the first stage of the race after Truex and Kevin Harvick, the day’s two dominant cars, chose to pit. The same pattern occurred at the end of the second stage when Denny Hamlin inherited the lead and grabbed the stage win.
Other than that? It was a Sonoma snoozer compared to past races there. The Truex-Harvick duo pulled away from the field and stole the show.
Kyle Larson started on pole and led the first two laps of the race before Truex passed him and took over the top spot. Truex led the next 20 laps before pitting with others anticipating the end of the stage. Allmendinger led the last three laps of stage one to grab the playoff point. Truex led from the time Allmendinger pitted after the first stage until he was passed by Harvick with eight laps to go in the second.
Harvick then led six laps before leading the charge onto pit lane before the end of stage two, giving the lead to Hamlin. Allmendinger missed a shift shortly after the stage began and stopped on track after his engine expired. That was the only caution of the race that was not for the end of a stage.
The final stage began with Harvick leading the first 21 laps. As the stage neared the 20-lap completed mark Cole Pearn, the crew chief for Truex, began talking about pitting the car. After suggesting the pit stop was coming and telling Truex to stop on the next lap, Harvick’s team called him in on lap 72.
But that’s when Pearn changed course. Truex stayed out for another eight laps at that point and that decision basically put the No. 78 on the fast track to the victory. When Truex finally pitted, Kurt Busch led a lap then relinquished it to Erik Jones. As Jones pitted, Harvick regained the top spot but Truex was on eight-lap fresher tires and quickly ran down the leader.
Once Truex dispatched Harvick, he continued to pull away. Harvick and teammate Clint Bowyer pitted again to try and set themselves up for a strong run with a late-race caution but the yellow never flew.
In the end, Truex won the race by 10.513 seconds. Harvick and Bowyer finished second and third, respectively after flying through traffic in the closing laps. Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch rode their own pit strategies to fourth and fifth-place runs.
Why you should care
The top teams of the season continue to be Harvick, Bowyer and their Stewart-Haas Racing teammates fighting against Kyle Busch, Truex and their Joe Gibbs Racing teammates/partners. The Chevrolet teams are beginning to make progress and the Penske cars are certainly capable of winning at some point. But, for now, it is Harvick, Busch, Truex and potentially Bowyer who are the ones to beat on a week-to-week basis.
What your friends are talking about
Tragedy struck in the World of Outlaws this weekend. Jason Johnson flipped out of Beaver Dam Raceway on Saturday night in a World of Outlaws Sprint Car race. He was airlifted to a local hospital and ultimately succumbed to his injuries Sunday morning. Racing has become vastly safer since 2001 but it is still a dangerous endeavor. Frontstretch sends our thoughts and prayers to Jason’s family, race team, friends and fans during this terrible time.
Fans have been asking for old school racing and to a certain extent, they have it. Fans may just not like what they’ve been given. It has been more than 40 years since we have had six or fewer winners through the first 16 races of the season. It is hard to believe that, in an era when 20 cars realistically have a chance to win on any given weekend, only six have managed to do so. That includes two drivers who only have one win apiece on the plate tracks. That number will most certainly go up before Indianapolis in September but it’s still far lower than the sport wants to see.
Jimmie Johnson won the fourth annual Byrnsie Award this weekend in Sonoma. The award was started in honor of Steve Byrnes, whose nickname was Byrnsie, to recognize an individual in the MENCS garage who embodies the principles by which Byrnes lived his life. The award recipient was voted on by Byrnes’ colleagues at NASCAR on FOX, where Byrnes worked from their first broadcast in 2001 until his death.
Fans will actually be allowed to drive the Charlotte Roval on July 14 if they are ticketholders for the September 30 event at the Speedway. Ticketholders can stop by the ticket office and pick up a voucher, after signing the appropriate waivers, that affords them a three-lap trip around the Roval from 4-8 p.m.
Hamlin has vowed to avoid negative comments on social media this season and he recommends other people in the industry should do the same thing. For athletes, answering an individual making negative remarks who has a very small following simply affords them a larger voice. Hamlin suggests ignoring the comments altogether rather than amping up someone whose comments would otherwise not be noticed.
PRN’s Wendy Venturini was struck by a car while jogging in California Saturday. She suffered a concussion and a fractured skull, keeping her from covering the race in the pits. But her prognosis is for a full recovery and she’s also in good spirits at the hospital. Venturini’s brother credits her recent efforts at exercising and improving her health as part of the reason she’s in such good shape after a traumatic event.
Who is mad
For the second year in a row, Kyle Larson put his No. 42 on the pole for Sonoma. But just like last year, Larson’s car was brutally loose and his race was thrown away by the time the first stage ended (14th). Larson has had a frustrating year and car setup has dogged him multiple times. He very well could still win a race and also remains a playoff lock. However, his team needs to figure out where they continue to struggle with setup issues.
AJ Allmendinger looks forward to the road course races more than anyone else in the series. Winning the first stage, then had him feeling like the No. 47 team were at least going to have a shot. Unfortunately for the ‘Dinger, he missed a shift that killed his engine and also ended his day. Sonoma is the road course that gives this JTG-Daugherty Racing team the best chance for a win every season. Throwing that chance away on driver error has to be frustrating for him.
Who is happy
Elliott finished 21st in the Sonoma race in 2016. Last season, he came home in eighth while this year, he crossed the line in fourth. Elliott, after a sluggish regular season was the high point for much of 2017 for Chevrolet. Besides Larson, he’s been the best in the Bowtie camp again this season. Elliott is continuing to figure out Cup racing and, once he breaks through for a win, he’ll rack up a bunch of them.
Aric Almirola finished 14th at Sonoma in 2016; it was his only top-15 result in six career starts. At Watkins Glen, he’s never finished better than 16th and over half of his runs there have been worse than 20th. But Sunday saw Almirola come home eighth and he was on the verge of a top-five finish. Tony Stewart also tutored Almirola leading up to Sonoma and that work seems to have been rewarded with the best road course finish of his career.
When the checkered flag flew
- Martin Truex Jr. scored his third victory of 2018 Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. It was Truex’s 18th triumph of his career in his 457th start.
- The win is Truex’s second of his career at the California road course.
- Truex is now ranked 46th on the all-time win list in a tie with Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
- Kevin Harvick came home second Sunday for his second consecutive runner-up run and third of 2018. Harvick has eight top-two finishes this year.
- It was Harvick’s third top-two run at Sonoma in his career.
- On the all-time runner-up list, Harvick has 53 second-place finishes which ranks him 10th .
- Rounding out the top three was Clint Bowyer, who logged his fourth career podium at Sonoma. Bowyer has five top-three runs in 2018.
- For his career, Bowyer has finished on the podium 39 times which ranks him 58th all-time, tied with Sterling Marlin.
- William Byron came home in 25th place. That was enough to snag the Rookie of the Race award for the third straight week. Byron has won Rookie of the race nine times this year while Darrell Wallace Jr. has won it seven times.
Austin Dillon, Harvick, Truex, Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are the six race winners in 16 races of 2018. At this point, it is impossible for there to be more than 16 unique winners in the regular season. That means all MENCS winners are locked into the playoffs, assuming they attempt the remaining regular season races.
Here are the drivers who would qualify for the MENCS playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):
1) Kyle Busch – 25
2) Kevin Harvick – 26
3) Joey Logano – 7
4) Brad Keselowski – 4
5) Martin Truex Jr. – 18
6) Clint Bowyer – 10
7) Kurt Busch – 2
8) Denny Hamlin – 2
9) Kyle Larson – 0
10) Aric Almirola – 0
11) Ryan Blaney – 4
12) Jimmie Johnson – 0
13) Chase Elliott – 0
14) Erik Jones – 0
15) Alex Bowman – 0
18) Austin Dillon – 5
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
The road course at Sonoma gave fans everything they could ask for with the exception of on-track passes for the lead. There were multiple pit strategies, a bluff by the race winner’s crew chief on their final pit stop call and surprise top-10 finishers. As a result, we’ll give this one four cold Gold Nugget Cali Commons from Sonoma Springs Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
It is time for NBC to take over MENCS coverage for the remainder of the 2018 season. They’ll start with Chicagoland, where their broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. this coming Sunday on NBCSN. The race can also be streamed on the NBC Sports App.
If you’d like to hear the race, it will be broadcast on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.