Road-course racing is a lot like baseball. Things happen, eventually, but those moments of excitement are few and far between.
At Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took on the first of three road courses this season, and to the surprise of basically no one, Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps en route to taking the checkered flag for Furniture Row Racing’s third victory of 2018. Rather appropriately, a Camry won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 for the fourth time in the past seven years.
In second place, over ten seconds behind, was Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, followed by his teammate Clint Bowyer. Chase Elliott was the top Chevrolet driver in fourth, a track-best result for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. In fifth place was Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing machine.
Road-course specialist AJ Allmendinger qualified fifth and won the first stage, while the second stage was captured by Hamlin. For the first time this season, a Team Penske car did not finish in the top 10.
Almirola didn’t qualify spectacularly, beginning the race in the 24th spot, but that was still his track-best qualifying effort for his MENCS career. His eighth-place finish was by far his top Sonoma result, and his seventh top-10 this season. Even more impressive? He’s put the No. 10 in the top 15 in all but two races this season (Texas and Richmond).
Just after winning the first stage, Allmendinger‘s motor expired on lap 33, rendering the No. 47 with a last-place finish of 38th. While he’s qualified in the top five each of the past five years at Sonoma, his previous four finishes from 2014-2017 were pretty rough, too – 37th, 37th, 14th and 35th. There’s still Watkins Glen, and Daytona, but this was one of his chances to steal a win to sneak into the playoffs.
14 different drivers scored stage points, and none of them were Harvick, Kyle Busch, Truex or Bowyer. Instead, the stage-point bonuses went to drivers like Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Kasey Kahne, and Michael McDowell. Winless drivers like Brad Keselowski, Elliott or Jimmie Johnson solidified their hold on a playoff berth with the extra points.
Jamie McMurray can’t catch a break this season. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver qualified fourth, but an oil pump failure ended his day on lap 33, putting him 37th in the final results. He’s sitting about 80 points out of playoff position at 21st in the standings. More concerning? He only has four finishes in the top 15 through basically half the season. With John Hunter Nemechek in the XFINITY Series for CGR, how much longer does McMurray have behind the wheel of the No. 1?
Kurt Busch is out there, always lurking around the front of the pack this season but somehow always being an afterthought in the championship hunt. His sixth-place run was his ninth top-10 of 2018 and fourth-straight at Sonoma, and he’s in eighth place in the standings, second among those without victories. That’s a pretty good place to be during a contract year (he signed a one-year extension with SHR in the offseason).
Ryan Blaney‘s car had a power steering failure play havoc with his chance of scoring a good points day, and he was the last car scored as running in 34th, his fourth time this season finishing near the back of the pack. The good news for him is that he drives for Team Penske, and that he’s still in 12th place in the standings, with a cushion of about a hundred points.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Blaney’s No. 12 Ford Fusion was decked out in PPG colors on Sunday, and if you’re a paint company, what better way to showcase yourself than by including a rainbow stripe, showing all the range of available options? Also, the drips down the rear panels serve a double function, firstly as paint drips, which of course happens frequently, and secondly to suggest the speed of a top-flight stock car. Also, with all the navy blue cars appearing most weeks, sky blue is a good change of pace.
All three national series travel to Chicagoland Speedway next weekend, which is one of the most cookie-cutter tracks on the schedule. Drama will likely be very low. Watersports supplier Overton’s will sponsor all three races.
As Truex has won the past two races at Chicagoland, he seems like a safe bet to go with as the prerace favorite, though Keselowski is also a recent winner.
With ten races to go until the playoffs begin, and ten spots to fill, at most four of those tickets will be punched by parking in Victory Lane, and one of those new winners will be Keselowski. Some combination of the No. 4, No. 14, No. 18 and No. 78 will take the checkered flag in at least four of the remaining regular-season events.
The annual switch of broadcasters happens next weekend, as NBC takes over for the second half of the season. Fans will likely realize, though perhaps not immediately, that they miss Fox’s coverage more than they imagined.
The Overton’s 400 will go green on Sunday, July 1, at 2:30 p.m. ET, with TV coverage on NBCSN.