Toyota/ SaveMart 350 at Sonoma preview

By Brian Wiggins 

It’s that time of year again when the stars of NASCAR make a few turns to the left and right with the first of two road courses of the season this weekend at Sonoma.

Over the past few seasons, the Sonoma event has become a fan favorite with constant action happening in each of the 11 turns, making for what some are starting to call one of the most entertaining races of the season.

Last year’s race was a perfect example why fans are starting to flock to liking the road courses.

The feud between Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart, which sent the rear end of Stewart’s car into the tire barrier, gave some the notion to dub the California road course as the “new Bristol” with the new-found aggressive nature of the track.

While beating and banging grabbed the attention of the fans, Kurt Busch had none of the action behind him and cruised to his first career road course victory in the Cup Series.

Looking forward to Sunday’s event, will the action packed race of the last few seasons continue, or will the racing be more tame like in year’s past?

If racing this year is any indication, Sunday’s race could go back to what fans were more accustom of seeing at Sonoma, with drivers taking care of their equipment so they have a chance to win come the closing stages of the race.

Going back to those times of road course racing, there was almost no beating Jeff Gordon and the “Rainbow Warriors” from the late ’90’s through the early  2000’s.

With six-consecutive wins at Sonoman and Watkins Glen from 1997 through June, 2000, Gordon was dubbed the nickname “King of the Road?. Since then however, Gordon hasn’t shown a great deal of success at either Sonoman or Watkins Glen since 2006.

From 2001-2009, Stewart asserted his presence on the road courses, winning seven times during that span. Although five of those wins were at Watkins Glen, Stewart has been impressive at the more technical Sonoma course where he picked up his first ever NASCAR win on a road course in June,2001.

Lately, NASCAR’s international flare has been supreme at the road courses.

Back in 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya conserved enough fuel to hold on for his first career Sprint Cup victory at Sonoma. Montoya, who had already won earlier that season at Mexico City in Nationwide, quickly placed his name in the list of contenders each time NASCAR visited a road course.

An Australian V-8 Supercar Series star, Marcos Ambrose took to racing at NASCAR’s road courses quickly. Seemingly a front runner from his first time out, Ambrose became the one to beat at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

After a dominant performance in the 2010 Sonoman race, Ambrose was conserving fuel, hoping to grab his first Sprint Cup victory. By shutting his motor off under the caution flag, Ambrose’s car stalled going up the turn one hill, handing the lead and the win to Jimmie Johnson.

While both drivers are indeed contenders for the win Sunday, both Ambrose and Montoya struggled to grasp the new tire compound last year for the majority of the weekend, taking them out of a chance of winning.

Regardless if you’re going with a  NASCAR star, or a road course ringer for Sunday’s race, the eleven turns of Sonoma should provide excitement around every corner.

Toyota/SaveMart 350 Entry List 

#1 Jamie McMurray (McDonald’s)

#2 Brad Keselowski (Miller Lite)

#5 Kasey Kahne (Farmers Insurance)

#7 Robby Gordon (MAPEI)

#9 Marcos Ambrose (Stanley)

#10 Tony Drissi (TBA)

#11 Denny Hamlin (FedEx Ground)

#13 Casey Mears (GEICO)

#14 Tony Stewart (Office Depot-Mobil 1)

#15 Clint Bowyer (5-Hour Energy)

#16 Greg Bifle (3M-US Stationary)

#17 Matt Kenseth (Ford EcoBoost)

#18 Kyle Busch ( M&M’s)

#19 Mike Bliss (Humphrey Smith Racing LLC)

#20 Joey Logano (The Home Depot)

#22 A.J. Allmendinger (Shell Pennzoil)

#24 Jeff Gordon (Drive To End Hunger)

#26 Josh Wise (MDS Transport)

#27 Paul Menard (Menard’s- Moen)

#29 Kevin Harvick (Rheem)

#30 Brian Simo (TBA)

#31 Jeff Burton (Wheaties)

#32 Boris Said (HendrickCars.com)

#33 Stephen Leicht (LittleJoesAuto.com)

#34 David Ragan (Green 1 High Performance Green)

#36 Dave Blaney (Tommy Baldwin Racing)

#38 David Gilliland (1-800-loanmart)

#39 Ryan Newman (Quicken Loans)

#42 Juan Pablo Montoya (Target)

#43 Aric Almirola (Medallion)

#47 Bobby Labonte (Clorox)

#48 Jimmie Johnson (Lowe’s)

#49 J.J. Yeley (America Israel Racing / JPO Absorbents)

#51 Kurt Busch (Phoenix Construction)

#55 Brian Vickers (RK Motors Charlotte)

#56 Martin Truex Jr. (NAPA)

#78 Regan Smith (Furniture Row-Farm American Chevrolet)

#83 Landon Cassill (Burger King)

#87 Joe Nemechek (AM/FM Energy Wood and Pellet Stoves)

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard)

#93 Travis Kvapil (Burger King)

#95 Scott Speed (Leavine Family Racing)

#98 David Mayhew (Phil Parsons Racing)

#99 Carl Edwards (Aflac)