Sunday morning at Sonoma Raceway was overcast and downright chilly. But the enthusiastic fans didn’t seem to mind.The RV field across the road and down aways from the track was very full with campers and lots of team flags. The Trackside TV show was broadcast live from Victory Circle with various drivers and notables. Remnants of colorful confetti from Saturday’s Victory Circle were strewn everywhere. Happy fans were queuing up for parade laps around the 10-turn, 1.99-mile NASCAR track configuration.
Saturday’s Carneros 250 NASCAR K&N Pro Series-West race was, as always, exciting and filled with drama. Pole sitter, Will Rodgers/No.7 Solvang Brewing Company Chevrolet led most of the race, but in the end was beaten by 2014 NASCAR Cup Champion, Kevin Harvick, who started sixth, drove No.4 Fields Ford. He turned the fastest lap of 88.302 mph/1:21.131. The Margin of Victory ahead of Rodgers, a Rookie, was 0.530. Rodgers was running his first K&N road race.
Finishing third through fifth were David Mayhew/No.17 MMI Racing Chevrolet; Michael Self/No.9 Sunrise Ford; and Rookie Derek Kraus/No.19 Carlyle Tools Toyota, who is now third in the standings.
Left to Right: Will Rodgers, Kevin Harvick, and David Mayhew.
Harvick, one of four Cup drivers entered in the race, said he wanted to run the race for fun and give back to the series which gave him his start. “It always feels good to win no matter what it is. The main objective was to come have fun, shine a little light on the series and shine a little light on how much talent is in the series. This particular series did a lot for me and to come back and be a part of it, see the health of it and see the young guys racing was the main objective.
“It’s always fun to race in front of your home state fans. It’s been a long time since I raced in this particular series here, so it was a fun weekend.”
Rodgers said “For some funny reason, I had a feeling as far back as four weeks ago that it was going to be me and Kevin coming into turn 11 on the last lap. And sure enough, there we were. He ran a really good race, I learned a lot from him. We were able to lead some laps there in the beginning. It doesn’t feel too bad to finish second today.” Rodgers moved up to fourth in the standings.
Todd Gilliland/No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota maintained his lead in the standings, with his sixth place finish.
The other Cup drivers running the race were Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez. Blaney, driving No.88 Discount Tire Ford, ran hard and well, before his starting third and then ending up at the rear, and working his way back up the field. He unfortunately had to retire mechanical on Lap 53 of the 64-lap race. Suarez started seventh and had worked up to third near the end only to suffer mechanical issues which dropped him back to eleventh at the finish. This was his first Cup weekend on a road course, his first time at the wine country track. All the Cup drivers drove hard and well, and the K&N drivers appreciated the opportunity to race with the professionals, giving them a chance to learn from the best.
Kevin O’Connell from the Cup race was also entered, but withdrew after qualifying.
The Sonoma round of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series is one of the first race tracks to which Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won’t be returning, as he ‘retires’ from full-time Cup racing. Track President & General Manager, Steve Page and his staff set the bar high in terms of unique and memorable ways to salute NASCAR’s most popular driver for the past 14 years. Drawing on Dale and wife Amy’s love of dogs, Sonoma Raceway will sponsor the training of three service/comfort dogs who will work with children. The three puppies, named Dale, Junior and Amy were introduced to Earnhardt in a surprise ceremony Friday just prior to his scheduled media conference.
Earnhardt was also presented with a a more traditional Sonoma Raceway (huge) wine bottle for his trophy case. There will be other highlights during the Sunday pre-race ceremonies. He starts the race from tenth position, and there will be no missing Junior’s racecar on track, with its in-your-face yellow. Way to go, Dale!
Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer and Executive Producer of the movie, CARS 3, John Lasseter, is the Official Pace Car Driver for the Cup race; and Cristela Alonzo, the voice in CARS 3 of elite trainer Cruz Ramirez, is the Grand Marshal. He said he wasn’t nervous until he got his Pace Car lessons from Brett Bodine. There is no Cruise Control on the tricked-out Toyota Pace Car, so he’ll have to manually control the mandated 40 mph pace car speed. But he said “It was the thrill of a lifetime” getting his lessons
All CARS movies were directed by Sonoma County residents, and Sonoma Raceway President/General Manager, Steve Page, facilitated Lasseter’s introduction to the world of NASCAR.
The cowl area of the front engine cover has an air intake opening which teams cover up for aero reasons. The teams seem to delight in finding trick emblems to affix on these covers while the race cars are on the grid prior to the race.