Sonoma Raceway is not a track that dates way back to the early stages of the NASCAR’s history, but that does not mean that some of the most legendary drivers in the history of the sport have not enjoyed a high level of success there.
In fact, eight drivers that have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame have tasted the sweet wine of victory at Sonoma, further underscoring how tough it is to win at the winding road course.
Here’s a look at those drivers and their paths to road-racing lore.
Tony Stewart didn’t just win once at Sonoma, he did so three times in the NASCAR Cup Series. None were quite as dramatic and emotional as the third one in 2016, however.
In 2001, Stewart moved to the front near the end, leading the final 11 laps. Four years later, Stewart dominated, leading three times, taking the lead for the final time with, you guessed it, 11 laps to go.
And then there was 2016. Competing full time in the Cup Series for the final time as a driver, Stewart’s win enabled him to earn a playoff spot, giving his fans a highlight in his final year that they’d likely never forget.
In short, Jeff Gordon is the standard when it comes to road racers in NASCAR, even when compared to Chase Elliott.
Gordon’s record at Sonoma speaks for itself, with five wins, including three in a row from 1998 to 2000 and two more in 2004 and 2006, five wins in a nine-race span.
Not only that, but his 457 laps led at Sonoma is also more than twice the amount of any other driver, and he also owns the best average finish there of any other driver at 8.3.
Gordon’s five Sonoma poles also lead all drivers.
Mark Martin’s lone Sonoma win came in 1997, and he had to earn it in a big way, besting Gordon in second place by leading an astounding 69 laps – all but five circuits in the event.
For a 10-race stretch at Sonoma from 1990 to 2000, Martin was a model of consistency, finishing worse than 10th just once as well as claiming seven finishes of third or better.
Rusty Wallace found victory lane twice at Sonoma. His 1990 win saw him pace the field three times for 42 laps, denying Ricky Rudd of a win and of being the winner of the first two races at Sonoma.
Six years later, Wallace led for good with six laps to go, getting his first Sonoma win for Team Penske after the first came under the Blue Max Racing banner.
Speaking of Rudd, he lost out on a win in 1991 in one of the most controversial in-race officiating decisions in NASCAR history and one that would absolutely make social media highly entertaining if Twitter had been around in 1991. And Davey Allison was the benefactor.
As the race came to a close, Rudd was tracking down Allison for the lead after both took advantage of an opening created by Tommy Kendall and Martin colliding. On the race’s final lap, with Allison slowed by the lapped car of Dave Marcis, Rudd got into the rear end of Allison’s car, spinning the No. 28 out.
Allison collected his car to settle into second. But instead of Rudd being shown the checkered flag, he saw the black flag instead, as Allison was declared the winner.
The decision incensed many from Rudd’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports entry, including crew chief and Hall of Famer Waddell Wilson.
In what could be argued as one of the sweeter wins of the Intimidator’s career, he outright stole a 1995 win at Sonoma for his only win there.
Martin by far had the dominant car, leading 66 out of 74 possible laps. Earnhardt, however, led the most important ones, taking the lead for the final two laps for the win, helping him to earn an average finish at Sonoma of 8.6, second to only Gordon.
Ron Hornaday Jr.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a limited history at Sonoma, racing just four times from 1995 to 1998. In that time, however, Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. captured the checkered flag, winning from the pole in the inaugural event for the series at the track in 1995, leading all 40 laps.