TRUEX WINS SONOMA

Martin Truex

Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota won the 30th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race at Sonoma Raceway, with a 10.513 second Margin of Victory ahead of Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Ford. Truex led four times for 62 laps, the most of any driver. Truex is a repeat winner at Sonoma, breaking the streak of nine different winners in nine races. This is his third victory this season, his third on a road course as he won Sonoma in 2013, 18th in Cup, and his second road course win in a year as he won Watkins Glen last year.

The weather was a mild 80 degrees F, with 12 mph breezes and 46 percent humidity.

Truex was running second behind Harvick, when Harvick pitted. Truex stayed out, although his Crew Chief, Cole Pearn, called an audible and then rescinded.

Pearn said it was planned to do one pit stop. “We knew we were going to do one stop. That was kind of our plan. We just – we really needed them to pit earlier for it to work out. It was a bit of a gamble obviously, but obviously it paid off and worked out great. It’s tough. Everybody is so good in this, it sometimes takes something different to mix it up to pull one out.” Regarding the Pit/No Pit call, Pearn said “I felt it was better to call it and then call it off. Martin understood we were only doing one stop. We were lucky no caution came out.”

Truex said “I just drove the car. That’s what I do. I’m cool with whatever he wants to do. Cole and I have a great relationship. I tell him all the time, like you know win, lose or draw, we do it together and I just got a lot of trust in him. I don’t even say anything when he says pit or don’t pit. I just did what he wants to do, so awesome job by him today.”

“The last ten laps were easy. A little stressful. I was just hoping for no cautions because we had a big lead.”

Kevin Harvick and son

Harvick was runner-up. He led three times, for 35 laps. He turned the fastest race lap and on the final race lap he cut the gap behind Truex by half. “I think I was too hard on the car. I had a lot of problems with the car. Just kind of a few things compounded there to add up to a few things that didn’t work out to win the race today. We had a really good weekend and came up one spot short.” Regarding Truex’s late pit stop being confusing to him, Harvick responded “It didn’t affect our day at all. I don’t think it would have been any different of an outcome.”

Clint Bowyer

Finishing third was Clint Bowyer/No.14 One Cure Ford. Bowyer said ” I get bummed out when you get that close. Hate to give up the stage points. It’s fun no matter how you finish.” Regarding Truex’s pit strategy, “You know, you just don’t know what’s going on. You pick up little bits ad pieces of what the crew chief and spotter are telling you. But I saw him (Truex) stay out when we pitted and I was like, what’s that mean. And I kept looking, where is the 78? But, I had fun and I’m ready to go see my little guy.”

Fourth and fifth were Chase Elliott/No.9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M Caramels Toyota. Busch still leads the overall Driver standings, 72 points ahead of Harvick, but Harvick has one more Playoff point than Busch. Truex is now fifth overall, and third in Playoffs.

The top Rookie was William Byron/No.24 Liberty University Chevrolet, who finished twenty-fifth. He leads the Rookie standings.

Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Express Toyota won Stage Two. Truex won Stage Three and the race.

There was only one two-lap caution for cause – a new record for Sonoma; and two cautions to end stages – three laps each. AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet brought out the second caution of the race after he missed a shift/blew up early on in Stage Two and stalled on course going uphill to Turn One. He said it was the first shift he’s missed on a road course in ten years. It was especially sad for him as Allmendinger had just won Stage One. He had gridded fifth and worked his way up to take the lead on Lap 23 of the 25-lap stage.

With so few cautions, the race speeds just kept increasing, and by the last 15 laps of the race, almost every lap was faster. The average race speed was 82.862 mph, compared to last year’s average of 78.71 mph. The average race speed in Stage One was 89.692.

Twenty-one cars of the finishers were on the lead lap. Only one driver retired due to an accident – Cole Whitt/No.72 Chevrolet, who hit the wall. It didn’t even bring out a caution and he was alright. Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet had oil pump problems, lost pressure and the engine shut off. Cody Ware/No.52 SBC Contractors/Bubba Burger Chevrolet had fuel pump problems.

Pole sitter Kyle Larson/No.42 DC Solar Chevrolet led two laps and finished fourteenth.

There were seven leaders with 11 lead changes: Pole sitter Larson; Truex; Harvick, Allmendinger; Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Express Toyota-four laps; and Erik Jones/No.20 DeWalt Toyota and Kurt Busch/No.41 Haas Automation Ford who each led a lap.

The race lasted 2 hours 38 minutes 28 seconds, eight minutes 24 seconds faster than last year, which had two cautions, which was a record at the time. Sunday’s race wasn’t as exciting as some, but it certainly was cleaner and less aggressive than most. Drivers commented that some drama was missing as there were no restarts. Harvick said “You know, this is always a tough race, and it’s not always about slamming into people. I think as you look at the restarts, that’s usually where the most damage comes, and we didn’t have many of those today.” Bowyer said “We never got a restart or anything else to put on a show. That’s unfortunate. You work your ass off out there. I mean, it’s hard to showcase that.”

All cars cleared tech and no cars were taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center. The engine from Truex’s car did go back for inspection.

The next MENCS race is the Overton’s 400 1 July 2018 at Chicagoland Speedway, airing live on NBCSN at 2:30pm ET.

Sonoma Rising

SONOMA SUNDAY – PRE RACE STYLE

NASCAR Garage

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood – if that happens to be Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – and try saying that five times fast. It’s 71 degrees F and only predicted to have a high of 77 – quite a welcome drop from Saturday’s 101 F. The humidity is 58 percent and the wind is desultory in places, and frisky in others.

Sonoma Raceway, an elevated road course, is utilizing the 1.99-mile, ten turn NASCAR configuration. It has 160 feet (49 m) of total elevation change. The track was opened fifty years ago.

There are mobs of people everywhere. Tours are being led, gaggles and groups are clogging the byways and and there’s a lot to see. The view from the Spotters’ Stand on top of the John Cardinale Media Center is amazing, and appreciated all the more for the very steep and tall ladder one must traverse. Spotters used to go on top of the Drag Tower, but when the new, big ISM Vision TV screen was installed outside the top floor and roof, no one could see over it.

Victory Circle TV crowd

There’s a busy Pre-Race Schedule with two separate air shows – Wild Thing Airshows with ex-Romanian Military IAR-823 aircraft & Patriots Jet Team Air Show for 25 minutes with six-L-39 albatross jets; lots of pomp and circumstance with bands and grid girls, introductions, presentations, traditions, Driver Introductions and Driver’s Parade. Throw in live pre race telecast in Victory Lane and Talk With The Champ – Martin Truex, and you have a plethora of choices.

In the garages, the teams pushed their cars down to the pit lane – a veritable parade, with a variety of techniques for negotiating the pit ramp.

No.34 Chevrolet

No.10 Ford

No.88 Chevrolet

In Pit Lane it’s sensory overload with all the colors. liveries, signs, logos, and tchotchkes on the car hoods. Pit Tours, Pre-Race TV broadcasting, and crews tire marking for quick installation. So much going on.

Pit Stop Sign

Matt Yocum

Tire Marking

Drivers made their way to the stage for their introductions, wending their way in some instances past the fans.

Michael McDowell

Bubba Wallace

Denny Hamlin

The field of 38 cars is lined up in Pit Lane and covered up from the heat. The race stages will be 25 laps, 50 laps and 110 laps. The race distance is 218.9-miles/110 laps. Each driver will execute 1,210 turns during the race, so said the talking heads on the FSI Pre Race Show.

The race will be telecast live on Fox Sports 1.

Cup cars lineup

RUBBIN’ IS RACIN’ FOR RODGERS

Will Rodgers

Pole sitter Will Rodgers/No.7 KELLY Benefit Strategies Ford learned well from his teammate last year – Kevin Harvick – how to get through Turn 11 and how to handle restarts. Rodgers finished a close second last year to Harvick in the K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race, and this year he won a hard fought victory, and he turned the fastest race lap of 89.424 mph. He led 35 of the 64-laps. This was is second road course victory in as many races – and back to back – East Coast and West Coast Series. And it’s a good thing he subscribes to the ‘rubbin’ is racin’ philosophy as there was some of that.

Aric Almirola

Aric almirola

Rodgers led laps and got racy with those surrounding him, falling back at one point to seventh place. But he clawed his way back and with some gutsy driving with Cup drivers Daniel Suarez/No.No.54 ARRIS Toyota and Aric Almirola/No.41 DenBeste Water Solutions Ford, he prevailed after a daring pass of Almirola in Turn 11.

William Byron

William Byron

Finishing second, 4.420 seconds behind was Almirola. Third was another Cup driver, William Byron/No.27 Liberty Chevrolet. Byron has Max Papis as his full-time driver coach.

Suarez finished fourth, and Ryan Partridge/No.9 Sunrise Ford/Eibach/Lucas Oil/Braille Ford came in fifth – taking the points lead by one point.

The race is always exciting and a crowd pleaser. This time was no exception. There were lead changes – Rodgers – Almirola – Suarez. It would be interesting to see a lap chart. There were some crashes and hurt cars, but the drivers were all OK. It was a race of attrition as several cars gave up the ghost and retired. Most made it the Pit Lane on their own, some with help.

Hailie Deegan/No.19 Mobil 1/NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota was the top finishing Rookie, coming in seventh behind Cup driver Erik Jones/No.9 Dewalt Toyota. Deegan, who races with Bill McAnally Racing, had gridded third and stayed in the front pack despite the aggressive drivers of others in that group, which included most if not all the five Cup drivers at any given time. She held her own and made a killer outside pass late in the race in turn 9 – and made it stick. That was a particularly frantic lap already and Deegan at that point had already been smoking for a couple of laps. She kept on driving and pushing, gaining positions after the smoke first appeared.

Deegan now leads the Rookie standings and has moved up to fifth in the overall points.

Deegan has been racing since she was eight. Her father, Bert Deegan, is a noted dirt, motorcycle and off-road racer. They come from Temecula CA, but are building a house in Mooresville NC. She was home schooled and just graduated. During Driver Introductions, she had a ‘mini-graduation, complete with cap, gown and diploma. Deegan said she wants to race on the East Coast, and is looking at the K&N Series and the Late Model Series. She definitely wants to stay in stock cars, 100 percent. “I want to race on Sunday. That’s the goal.” Deegan was coached by Chris Cook as she’d never been on the Sonoma race track before. She drove a Trans-Am car, which was a little different and it was about a thousand pounds lighter, but it was still helpful. She also ran the NASA race in a Mazda Miata – “not the highlight of my career.” Deegan was clear that she doesn’t want to be like Danica (Patrick), whom she thinks moved up too fast. Deegan wants to take it slower and in steps.

Haile Deegan

Haile Deegan

Deegan raced a K&N race in Bakersfield against Kevin Harvick and said she learned a lot. And the two have kept in contact. To prepare for this first-ever road race, she had some coaching from Chris Cook, a Bondurant instructor and part-time NASCAR driver. He’s racing No.51 Shockwave Chevrolt in Sunday’s Cup race, and she will definitely will be around for that, perhaps on the Pit Box.

Harvick said about Deegan – “Hailie’s doing great. She’s got a lot of potential. She’s got a great feel for what she needs to be concentrating on, loves to race, comes from a great family and a family that loves to race. She’s got a lot of work to do. She’s got a great mind set of how long it’s going to take, but she’s off to a good start. She doesn’t want to rush into it and take it step by step. Kevin agreed that’s the right thing to do. If you look at our sport, there’s a tendency to rush people because they’re marketable and people like them. But in the end you can look at Danica. No matter how marketable you are in the end it’s going to come down to results.”

Team Owner Bill McAnally said what impressed him about Hailie at her first test was her feedback. She immediately was able to say what she wanted in the car to go faster, and when she got it, she went faster. Deegan came to his attention via Toyota Racing Development’s Driver Development program for young, upcoming drivers. They in turn introduced her to McAnally, along with several other young drivers, and she’s been a part of the NASCAR NEXT Development program for the past two years – the only female this season. She has her roots in off-road racing.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Ford is helping Jeff Motley, Vice President of Public Relations at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the promotional efforts for the K&N race which will be part of the Playoffs Race weekend. The K&N race will be on dirt Thursday night, the only dirt race on the schedule – this year or recently. Motley said Harvick told him, basically whatever the track needs, he’ll help. “I’m here to help in any way I can.” This will be the first time the Las Vegas track was in the Playoffs. The schedule calls for the Truck race on Friday night, Xfinity race Saturday afternoon and the Cup race on Sunday. Harvick, having come up through the various NASCAR series, has always been a big supporter of grass roots racing. Motley said “That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Harvick said “I’m glad we’re going to Las Vegas and that city is going to embrace what we do. Sometimes you have to promote the sport correctly and do the things that it takes to promote from an event stand point. It’s not all about the cars. We’ve had some great races, but not every race is that great. Every football or baseball game is that great. It’s just a different time in how people absorb things, where they watch the race, and I think it’s time to concentrate more on the event, more on the atmosphere. Everybody used to hate to come to a road course ten years ago. But Sonoma – it’s an event, a destination event. All the sponsors show up to Sonoma, they have big events, you can bring your wife and family. It could be the best race you ever saw, it could be the worst race you ever saw, but everyone will have a great time. Really what needs to be concentrated on …. my point in all this is we’re gong to go to Las Vegas this year. I’ve seen the marketing plans, what NASCAR has planned. If we go into that market, we’re going to sell tickets, draw awareness, and work on the local TV ratings, all the local angles and what goes with that. Chicago had gone a little bit stale and the crowd wasn’t what it used to be. I think we need to show up at Las Vegas, and it’s going to be a great way to start the Playoffs. It’s a great city to do that in. What I’m saying is that you can come to this particular race and a lot of people that come to this particular race are not here for the race. They’re here for a good weekend with their husband, wife, daughter or they’re part of a group and they say ‘Man, I can go to the wine country and you go to a race and they’re gonna hear all those cars coming down the front stretch and they’re gonna drop the green flag, and they’re gonna say ‘Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this.They’re gonna see cars spinning through the dirt and running into the tire barriers. they’re going to watch five guys change the tires and fill the thing up with 20 gallons of fuel (and Mobil 1). It’s just an event like they’ve never seen before. When you go to these events – fifty percent of the crowd doesn’t care about the race because of the fact they’ve never been there. But when they leave fifty percent of those fifty percent are going to say ‘Man, when’s the next one?”And that’s what you want to leave them with. Having a great weekend. There are a lot of people that care about the race, but there are people that come to race that are coming to Sonoma for a great time.”

For those who missed the race, or want to relive all the excitement, it will be aired on NBCSN Thursday 28 June 2018 at 6 pm ET.

K&N field

NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST-Carneros 200 Results

(Start position in parentheses)
1. (1) Will Rodgers, Solvang, Calif., Ford, 64 laps, 58.482 mph.
2. (5) Aric Almirola, Tampa, Fla., Ford, 64.
3. (2) William Byron, Charlotte, N.C., Chevrolet, 64.
4. (6) Daniel Suarez, Monterrey, Mexico, Toyota, 64.
5. (4) Ryan Partridge, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Ford, 64.
6. (13) Erik Jones, Byron, MI, Toyota, 64.
7. (3) Hailie Deegan, Temecula, Calif., Toyota, 64.
8. (9) Derek Thorn, Lakeport, Calif., Ford, 64.
9. (16) Cole Keatts, Lewiston, Idaho, Ford, 64.
10. (8) Derek Kraus, Stratford, Wisc., Toyota, 64.
11. (11) David Mayhew, Atascadero, Calif, Chevrolet, 64.
12. (14) Cole Rouse, Fort Smith, Ark., Toyota, 64.
13. (18) Tom Klauer, Reno, Nev., Chevrolet, 64.
14. (26) Rodd Kneeland, Sonoma, Calif., Chevrolet, 63.
15. (20) Jesse Iwuji, Carrolton, Texas, Chevrolet, 63.
16. (24) Rich DeLong III, Santa Clarita, Calif., Chevrolet, 63.
17. (10) Kody Vanderwal, LaSalle, Colo, Ford, 56, engine.
18. (12) Jim Inglebright, Fairfield, Calif., Chevrolet, 46, clutch.
19. (15) Todd Souza, Aromas, Calif., Toyota, 45, engine.
20. (25) Trevor Huddleston, Agoura Hills, Calif., Ford, 44, electrical.
21. (17) Travis Milburn, Eagle, Idaho, Chevrolet, 39, electrical.
22. (19) Carlos Vieira, Atwater, Calif., Ford, 31, accident.
23. (23) Hollis Thackeray, Gridley, Calif., Toyota, 17, transmission.
24. (7) Alex Bowman, Tucson, Ariz., Chevrolet, 10, engine.
25. (21) Takuma Koga, Nagoya, Japan, Chevrolet, 9, accident.
26. (22) Matt Levin, Tucson, Ariz., Chevrolet, 1, accident.

LARSON AND RODGERS ON NASCAR POLES

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson/No.42 DC Solar Chevrolet has the pole for the 30th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, with a lap of 94.597 mph/1:15.732. It did not break the qualifying track record he set in 2015 of 96.568 mph/1:14.186. This is Larson’s sixth Cup pole position, and back to back from Sonoma last year. It also is the 697th overall Cup pole win for Chevrolet in the series, and 15th at Sonoma Raceway.

Larson said “It’s cool to get a pole at my own home track here in Sonoma; and DC Solar’s home track as well. Qualifying here is one of my favorite things of the year. So, I’m glad we could pick up a lot of time there and get the pole.”

It was 93 degrees at the start of Cup Qualifying, with 33 percent humidity and winds of five mph. It continued to heat up to 101, the wind picked up and the humidity continued to drop. The Cup qualifying session was delayed due to extensive cleanup during qualifying for the K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race, after the track was extensively oiled from the Esses to Pit Lane. The announcer said it resembled the oil slick from the Exxon Valdeez. Billy Kahn/18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet grenaded his engine and flamed out while driving through Turn 8, leaving a swath not unlike the Exxon Valdez. With the humidity already low and lowering by the minute, no doubt Kahn felt it was wiser to continue to the pits rather than pull his flaming car off into the tinder-dry grass.

The course condition was of concern to Larson. “Yeah, I think we were all, or at least I was a little concerned with all the speedy dry over there. Even if it doesn’t affect the grip it is still in your head and you can see it and it affects you. I wouldn’t say I tip-toed through there, but I was a little more cautious the first round through all the speedy dry and through the esses and stuff. But then, once you get through there after the first round it seems fine. You can kind of just forget about it the second round and I think that is what I did.”

Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops Toyota “I missed a little bit in Turn Two, I think. I missed my line a little bit and bumped the corner a little bit more than I would have liked to and I was a little late getting back to the gas there. I think I lost some time exiting two. Overall it was a really good lap.”

Martin Truex, Jr No.78 Toyota

Regarding the effect of the oil dry on his qualifying, Truex said “It didn’t affect me, it affected the way the qualifying session went, without a question. You could see that nobody wanted to be the first on the track. You could see that the guys that went out early were really slow. It’s really unfortunate when those things happen in a 25 minute session. You get down to 15 minutes to go, or something like that and everybody starts to get really antsy. You don’t want to jump the gun and go too early or you’ll be too slow which we have seen some guys do. It’s just one of those things. It’s really difficult, I wish they would have done a better job cleaning the track up. It appeared they didn’t have the equipment needed for it. The only way to really get the rest of it off is to run cars on it, unfortunately it was qualifying.”

Chase Elliott No.9 Chevrolet

Jamie McMurray No.1 Chevrolet

AJ Allmendinger No.47 Chevrolet

Left to Right: Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and AJ Allmendinger.

Third through fifth were Chase Elliott/No.9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet; Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet; and AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet – who also has had a pole position at Sonoma.

Four of the top five were Chevrolets. Points leader Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M Caramels Toyota qualified ninth.

For Cup qualifying, they had two groups. The first group was the field, and AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet was fastest at 94.4770 mph/1:15.828. The second group was the top 12 from Group One.

During Cup Group One, more than several of the drivers sat up in ‘The Bus Stop’ by Turn 9 area waiting for a clear spot to take their flying lap. They were playing chicken with the clock.

Will Rodgers No.7 Ford

William Byron No.27 Chevrolet

Hailie Deegan

Left to Right: Will Rodgers, William Byron, and Hallie Deegan.

Will Rodgers/No.7 KELLY Benefits Strategies Ford took the pole position for the K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race with a lap of 90.591 mph/1:19.081, faster than he ran Friday. He was in the third of the three qualifying groups with the third being the fastest, based on Friday practice speeds. His lap and that of William Byron/No.27 Liberty Chevrolet pipped the top speed of Group Two leader, Rookie Hailie Deegan/No.19 No.19 Mobil 1/NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota, who will grid third.

The K&N West qualifying track record of 92.794 mph/1:17.203 at Sonoma was set by Cup driver, Kyle Larson on 21 June 2014. He holds the qualifying records in both NASCAR series which run at Sonoma. A native of nearby Elk Grove CA, Sonoma could be considered his ‘home’ track.

In the first group, Cole Keats/No.55 Peters & Keats Equipment Ford was fastest at 86.659 mph/122.669. There was drama in Group Two, first with Deegan jumping from mid-pack times to fastest. This is her first road course and her lap was 89.8270 mph/1:19.753. The other drama was Kahn’s car fire.

Group Three had to drive through the oil slick. By the end of their first qualifying lap, the caution came out to check the course conditions, after drivers had radioed in. A lengthy track cleanup prolonged the afternoon.

The scrutineering process for the MENCS has changed this year, with a more formalized, technilogical process. There are four stations the cars must visit, with the third now being in a closed, darkened tent with black flaps at each end, the better to protect the laser equipment measuring the various dimensions. The first three are in the paddock, and the fourth was in Pit Lane, after which time the cars lined up for Qualifying. Normally the crew members push the car station to station, remaining with the car during the process and sometimes doing things directed by NASCAR officials. In watching Jimmie Johnson/No.48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet going through a station, it was interesting to watch the ever-vigilant Crew Chief, Chad Knaus, one of the more technically creative Crew Chiefs, watching every single move and checking the car stem to stern before it rolled into the station.

No.18 Toyota in Station One

No.17 Ford in Station Two

No.14 Ford in Station Two

No.43 Chevrolet in Station Two

No.21 Ford in Station Two

No.3 Chevrolet in Station Four

No.37 Chevrolet in Station Three

Station Three

No.95 Chevrolet

No.48 Chevrolet in Station Two

Chad Knaus

Cup cars in Qualifying Lineup

BUSCH, AS IN KURT, FASTEST IN FINAL PRACTICE

Kurt Busch No.41 Ford

It was sunny and hot for the second/final practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Friday afternoon. The temperatures reached 101 degrees F. Kurt Busch/No.41 Haas Automation Ford Fusion led most of the 75-minute session. His top speed was 94.061 mph, faster than the earlier speed of 93.590 mph set in the noon practice by Clint Bowyer/No.14 One Cure Ford. Before Busch took over the top spot, 2017 Cup Champion, Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota was running fastest. KuBu’s little brother, points leader Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M Caramels Toyota, was nineteenth.

Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Express Toyota, Truex, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet, and last year’s Sonoma race winner, Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Ford were the top five. And that was the way they ran for the majority of the session. William Byron/No.24 Liberty University Chevrolet was again the top Rookie, in 24th position. Several of the drivers set their fastest times and then retreated to the relative cool of their garages and watched/took notes out the windows overlooking Pit Lane and Turn Eleven.

Immediately after the session, the cars were in the garage, up on blocks, being attended to by the bustling and busy crews, and refueling.

Denny Hamlin No.11 Toyota

Martin Truex No.71 Toyota

Kevin Harvick No.4 Ford

Left to Right: Denny Hamlin; Martin Truex, Jr; and Kevin Harvick.

Local road racer, A.J. Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet ran ninth in the first Friday session, and 12th in the final.

Early on in the session, there was a red flag interruption for two cars which ultimately pitted with heavy smoke. Kyle Larson/No.42 DC Solar Chevrolet was possibly the culprit for oil in the esses. His problem was a lose transmisson line. Byron had oil problems in his axle – a leaky hub.

Kasey Kahne/No.95 Procore Chevrolet took a wild spin but recovered nicely. He has a new Crew Chief this weekend – Jon Leonard.

Martin Truex, Jr.

Truex said that “Sonoma is the short track of road racing,” and he’s predicting “three pit stops during this year’s race.” Truex leaves it up to his Crew Chief, Cole Pearn, to determine the pit stop strategy. His first goal, as driver, is to win races, rather than stage points. Truex knows this weekend is going to be hot, and that’s one of the hardest things with which to deal in the car; “It’s difficult to stay focused in the heat. The mental focus is hard. There’s a lot to do at Sonoma – shifting 13 times a lap, left foot braking six to seven times a lap, and hitting marks around the course.” But … he still thinks “Sonoma is a blast to drive. You can really show your talent.”

Truex said he doesn’t train a lot, or hard.

Furniture Row Racing, Denver Mattress and Team Toyota are among those who are helping the Sonoma Rising program this weekend. They are donating Aspen mattresses to firehouses in Santa Rosa and Schellville, as well as making a substantial donation to the Sonoma County Parks Department.

Among the Hometown Heroes nominated for honoring this weekend were the nine Santa Rosa CityBus drivers who provided critical evacuation during the night of the fire, despite at least one of them suffering the loss of his home to the fire. They will be honored during the Sunday Pre-Race Show.

Richard Childress

Richard Childress

Richard Childress Racing with driver Ryan Newman/No.31 Chevrolet, and sponsors Grainger and the American Red Cross, packed 500 personal hygiene kits Friday for North Bay families that still are in need/those in need in future. Newman, who is running a partial schedule, finished 27th.

Eleven hundred Fire Survivors have been given race tickets provided by fans, businesses and community members.

This year’s Grand Marshal for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 will be Jonny Moseley, Olympic gold medalist and local Bay Area resident. He is a two-time Olympian and World Cup Champion in mogul skiing and has medaled in both the X Games and the Olympics. Moseley said he’s been a fan ever since his first Sonoma race at age 16 above Turn 4. “I am beyond excited to be immersed in the racing from the inside this time. What an honor and privilege to be on the track and kick off the race for these fine and talented daredevils. Let’s do this!”

Kyle Busch No.18 Toyota

BOWYER’S HOT!

NASCAR Tech Line

It’s Day One of the 30th Annual Toyota/Save Mart’350′ – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, and it quickly heated up – literally and figuratively. The Friday weather forecast was for 94 degrees F with 2 mph breeze and 56 percent humidity. It’s a High Fire Danger Day. This weekend the track is honoring Fire Survivors, First Responders, and Home Town Heroes from last October’s devastating North Bay fires and the ongoing rebuilding efforts – Sonoma Rising.

The Friday schedule called for practice for the two NASCAR races this weekend – Cup and K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 Race. Cup had two sessions, sandwiching the K&N practice. Cup has thirty-eight drivers.

K&N has 27 drivers including five Cup drivers – Daniel Suarez/No.54 Arris Toyota; Erik Jones/No.20 DeWalt Toyota; Alex Bowman/No.24 Axalta/Nationwide; William Byron/No.27 Liberty Chevrolet; and Aric Almirola/No.41 DenBeste Water Solutions Ford. Since 2011, only two West winners at Sonoma were non-Cup drivers – David Mayhew/No.17 MMI Services/Madoram Chevrolet in 2015 and Derek Thorn/No.6 Sunrise Ford/Eiback Spring/Lucas Oil Ford in 2013. Both are running this weekend.

In the paddock, in preparation, the 39 Cup cars were busy going through the Tech lines, while selected drivers were fulfilling media obligations before donning drivers suits. Above, catching everyone off-guard, were two F-15’s from Washington, loudly practicing for Sunday’s Air Show as part of the pre-race festivities.

It was 84 degrees F for the start of Cup practice, and 91 degrees F at the end – 75 minutes later. Thirty-nine drivers were on the original Entry List, and thirty-eight Friday. Missing was Reed Sorenson/No.107 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet. In the past 13 races, there have been 11 different winners, and in all 29 races, there have been 19 different winners. Jeff Gordon won five times and Tony Stewart won three times.

This weekend for Cup, there are 19 Chevrolets, 13 Fords and seven Toyotas. For K&N, the breakdown is 11 for Chevrolet, nine for Toyota, and seven for Toyota.

Clint Bowyer/No.14 One Cure Ford led early and long – the only leader. His fastest lap was 93.590 mph. Second through fifth were Ryan Blaney/No.12 PPG Ford, Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet, and Daniel Suarez/No.19 STANLEY Toyota. The top Rookie was William Byron/No.23 Liberty University Chevrolet, in 22nd place.

Bowyer won the last Cup race at Michigan and is feeling good this weekend. His strategy is to “Just to get settled in and comfortable on the race track and get your car comfortable. That is the biggest thing. This race track presents all kinds of challenges. The forward bite issues and the high speed section and you have to have good aero grip through the high speed section. It is very technical up through the hill. It is the short track of road racing. And who am I to say that? I am not a road racer and haven’t really been on anything other than these two that we race on. It has always felt like a little bullring short track somewhere in the midwest. It just happens to be that you go right and shift gears all at the same time.”

Some Cup drivers stretched their limits, including Erik Jones/No.20 DeWalt Toyota, and Bubba Wallace/No.43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet, but no worries.

Points-leader Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M Caramels Toyota ran 13th at best and ended up 18th. Last year’s race winner, Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Ford ran as high as fifth, but finished 12th. Despite being a California native and racing many times at Sonoma, last year was the first time Harvick won at the elevated road course. He cleaned up that weekend, also winning the K&N race.

Half-way through the first practice, a full-course caution for track inspection interrupted the session. Cody Ware/No.37 52 SBC Contractors Chevrolet lost a brake duct.

Tomy Drisi

Tomy Drisi

The Sonoma race often attracts road racers from other series, sometimes labeled ‘road course ringers.’ This weekend Tomy Drisi from Trans-Am and Chris Cook are such this weekend. Drisi is racing No.00 Go Share Chevrolet for StarCom Racing, while Cook, Bondurant driving instructor, is again racing for Rick Ware Racing in No.51 Shockwave Chevrolet. Earlier this month Cook coached Rookie K&N driver, Hailie Deegan/No.19 Mobil 1/NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota.

Cook ran 36th, and Drisi was 38th. Rookie Deegan was 14th of 27 K&N drivers.

Spotters are mandated for all NASCAR races, and at Sonoma, the favorite spot is up above Turn Two by the Water Towers. Other positions are on top of the Media Center overlooking Turn 12, and the Drag Tower near the Pit Lane entrance. No driver can go on course until his spotter has checked in at the Spotter Stand. When a NASCAR team enters a race, they are required to have/name three things – Driver, Crew Chief and Spotter.

One well-known road racers who has perhaps more laps on Sonoma Raceway than all the drivers is this weekend’s Pace Car Driver – Scott Pruett. The local native cut his teeth at the course in all of its many configurations, starting with SCCA FF and FA. After 50 years of racing – the most decorated road racer of the modern era, he retired after this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. In between he raced in sports cars, GT cars, Indycars, stock cars, IROC, and Aussie V8’s. He also has written childen’s books about racing with his wife, Judy, and grows award-winning wine.

Will Rodgers/No.7 Kelly & Assoc. Insurance Group Ford led the K&N practice in 91 degree heatq. Second through fifth were Suarez, Bowman, Byron, and David Mayhew. Current points leader, Thorn, finished 12th.

Qualifying for the Carneros 200 Race is 10:15am PT Saturday, with the race at 1:30pm PT. Cup Qualifying for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 is 11:45am PT Saturday morning.

Track Vehicle

Survivor Truck

Big Red Kart

HAPPY HARVICK!

Kevin Harvick

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Kevin Harvick aka Happy Harvick, made it two for two in winning races this weekend, putting his No.4 Mobil 1 Ford in Victory Circle Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. He won the 29th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Harvick was the 11th winner in the 16 Cup races so far.

Harvick, the California Kid, had never won a Cup race at Sonoma, the Cup track he considers ‘home.’ His team owner, Tony Stewart, won the race last year. This year, the Stewart Haas, owned by Stewart and Gene Haas, team switched to Ford.

Kevin Harvick

Photo by Mike Burghardt

“It’s been a lotta work, a lotta hours, and it’s paying off. This is worth the wait, to come to Sonoma for so many years. This weekend has worked out well.

“It means a ton to get this Sonoma win. To finally check this one off the list. I feel like we have been close a couple times but never put it all together. Being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list and today we were able to check that box.”

Harvick hadn’t won a race this year, so this was his first win of the season, his 36th career victory, and his first win since his team switched to Ford for this season. The team has won twice, the other victory belonging to Kurt Busch. Ford has won seven races this season. Harvick’s win brings him up to third in the Driver points.

Kevin Harvick No.4 Ford

Photo by Mike Burghardt

As race wore down, Harvick was slowing down to save fuel, but still maintaining a healthy lead ahead of contending SHR teammate,Clint Bowyer. Harvick led twice in the race, laps 65-66 and the last 21 laps.

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

Harvick beat Bowyer by 8.036 seconds. Harvick had slowed his pace to save on fuel, gambling on there being no late-race caution. Bowyer had some interactions with a couple of other drivers, but hung in there to finish runner-up. “You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them you have to check up to save a mistake. You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw the 42 (Kyle Larson) check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden the 47 (AJ Allmendinger) was coming through him and I smoked him and hurt the left front. We were fast all weekend. With clean air and an long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just had to start dead last to get it.”

Cars 3

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Clint Bowyer No.14 FordBowyer had the CARS 3 racecar this weekend. For those who need more encouragement to go see the movie just out, which features substantial voiceovers from the late Paul Newman as Doc Hudson, here is another photo of the Pixar CARS.

SHR Team: Crew Chief, Rodney Childers; Co-Owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas

SHR Team: Crew Chief, Rodney Childers; Co-Owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas

Third through fifth were Brad Keselowski/No.2 Freightliner Elite Support Ford; Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota; and Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota.

Dale Earnhardt No.88 Chevrolet

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran as high as third, but finished sixth overall. He was asked what stood out for him in his 17-race career, making him the most proud. “I think the wins and everything, are great. I enjoyed celebrating those. But, long after your career; guys come along and win races and some of your accomplishments on the track sort of get forgotten. But, who you are as a person never gets forgotten. People never forget who you were. I hope people just thought I was good and honest and represented the sport well. I hope people that work with me enjoyed working with me, whether it was in the Late Model ranks or whatever; and I hope the guys I raced against enjoyed racing with me. That’s really all that will matter. And, what people I think will remember, is always you’re alive and beyond. Hopefully I left a good impression. I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Kyle Larson

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Pole Sitter Kyle Larson/No.42 Target Chevrolet led for the first nine laps before being passed by Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota. He then ran off course and fell backwards. Larson won four different races in the past week, but was lapped in the fading moments of the Cup race. He finished twenty-sixth. However, Larson maintain his points lead, 659 points, thirteen ahead of Truex.

Daniel Suarez/No.19 Stanley Toyota was the top Rookie, finishing sixteenth.

Harvick won Saturday’s Carneros 250 NASCAR K&N Pro Series-West race, and said then, and now, that he wanted to keep busy on weekends, wanted to get more laps on a road course, and definitely wanted to bring more attention to and work with the Western series to help them get more attention and sponsorship. The Western drivers sometimes don’t get equal representation or focus as do the Eastern series, and Harvick wants to change that.

Martin-Truex

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota won the first Stage, making it the eleventh stage he’s won this season, which helps him points wise. With two wins and 11 stages, he has 21 Playoff Points, more than any other Cup driver. His day didn’t end so well, however, as his engine failed and he retired on Lap 86.

Jimmie Johnson/No48 Lowe’s Chevrolet won Stage Two, his first. He already has two victories, so he’s in the Playoffs.

Danica Patrick No.10 Ford

Danica Patrick No.10 Ford

Danica Patrick/No.10 Code 3 Associates Ford had a character-building race. She had her best start this season, sixth. Patrick had contact with Earnhardt in the first stage, and finished thirty-seventh. That brought out a caution to rearrange the tire stacks. She started Stage Two from twentieth, and had another contact with Earnhardt which included AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroeger Chevrolet, which spun her wherein she was then hit by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr/No.17 Fastenal Ford. Patrick finished that stage in 34th. She started Stage Three from eighteenth spot and finished 17th, on the lead lap. “It definitely wasn’t the day the Code 3 Associates team was expecting, but we were able to battle back to a decent finish. The car was just awful in the final laps of the last two runs, but we made the most of it at the end.” Her boyfriend, Stenhouse, was evaluated and released from the infield care center.

Also into character-building was Allmendinger. He started fifth, led for four laps and then had encounters and excursions. He then lost power and finished thirty-fifth, six laps down. “I don’t know what happened there. I just noticed what was going to be our final pit stop I kind of looked down and just noticed the battery starting to die. From there that was it. Shutting all the switches off and everything wasn’t going to work. I’m mad at myself for not driving very well. The car was pretty good. That first stint was good. The No. 78 (Martin Truex) was pretty good, but thought we were going to be okay. I just didn’t drive very well and just bad luck again.”

Kasey Kahne/No.5 Microsoft Windows Chevrolet hit the wall hard on the last lap which brought out a caution but didn’t affect Harvick taking the victory. Kahne finished twenty-fourth, one lap down. He was evaluated and released from the infield care center. “It was a hard hit. No. 15 no clue who he is, I saw him a lot today lapping him, but he went low down the front stretch and then just, I was going to his outside and he just turned right and just hit me, put me straight in the wall getting the white flag there. No clue what he was thinking. You obviously don’t know what he’s doing either.”

There were ten leaders and thirteen lead changes. Other leaders were Truex three times for 25 laps; Hamlin twice for thirteen laps; Keselowski once for 17 laps; Johnson once for 12 laps; Kyle Busch once for three laps; JTG Daughtery Chevrolet teammates, AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroeger and Chris Buescher/No.37 Kingsford, each once for four laps; and Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet, once for a lap. McMurray also turned the fastest lap

Harvick Cup Banner

As the race progressed, the average race speed increased to 77.710 mph, but never reached last year’s average of 80.966 mph. The three-stage race was interrupted by six cautions for 12 laps, but none for the third and final stage – 60 laps.

There were several speeding tickets, including Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Joey Logano.

Other penalties included too many crew over wall or over wall too soon or not in contact with outside tire, and pitting before pit road open.

Post Race Tech Inspection Report: First and second place cars plus the random car, No.1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet passed the ‘At Track’ Inspection and left for the NASCAR R&D Facility in Charlotte. The third, fourth and fifth place finishing cars passed the ‘At Track’ Inspection and were released. NASCAR Tech had an issue with the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota having two lug nuts not safe and secure. This means a one-race suspension for the Crew Chief and a $20,000 fine. The Kyle Busch team is already serving a Crew Chief suspension for having five lug nuts not safe and secure leaving the pits at Dover. That wheel left the car. At Sonoma, the No.18 Assistant Crew Chief was filling in. Now the No.18 team will go to the next backup Crew Chief.

The next race is 1 July 2017 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stage Three Restart!

SONOMA SUNDAY

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.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick. Photo by Mike Burghart

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.

Will Rodgers

Kevin Harvick

David Mayhew

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.

Kevin Harvick banner

“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.

Steve Page & Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Steve Page & Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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.

DaleEarnhardt No.88

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!

Cristela Alonzo & John Lasseter

Cristela Alonzo & John Lasseter. Photo by Mike Burghart

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.

No.1 Cessna

No.34 Love's Stop

No.20 Stanley

Cup Starting Grid

IT’S ALL ABOUT CARS

Cars 3

The pace picked up Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway for Day Two of the 29th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 250 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race weekend. After Friday’s two practice sessions, cars were again going through the technical inspection process prior to their noon-time qualifying session. Once cleared, they lined up in Pit Lane side by side, all neat and tidy, awaiting their turn to peel out.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the paddock, the CARS 3 display was being set up, the final stop in a cross-country tour of 27 cities promoting the release of the latest Pixar movie. Three life-sized versions of the movie’s cars will be in the display, including No.95 Lightning McQueen.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, will drive the 2017 Toyota pace car for Sunday’s Cup race. He was the executive producer on CARS 3. Cristela Alonzo, voice of the film’s elite trainer, Cruz Ramirez, will be the Grand Marshal Sunday.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Points Leader, Kyle Larson/No.42 Target Chevrolet, was fastest Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway for the final practice session leading up to the 29th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 Race. He drove 94.389 mph/1:15.899, one of only two drivers who were in the fifteens. Larson also turned the most laps of any – 30. He edged Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s Carmel Toyota, who turned a 1:15.935 at 94.344 mph.

Dale Earnhardt/No.88 Axalta Chevrolet was third. He had led most of the morning session. AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet was fourth, followed by Jamie McMurray/No1 Cessna Chevrolet.

NASCAR Penalty Box

Three drivers sat inside their cars in NASCAR’s equivalent of the Penalty Box for fifteen minutes prior to the first practice, for failing multiple tech inspections at the Michigan Cup race. They were Kurt Busch/No.41 Monster Energy/Haas Automotive Ford; Ty Dillon/No.13 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet; and Erik Jones/No.77 5-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota.

Final practice was more lively than the earlier session.

All 38 entries ran the session. Several drivers barely warmed their tires, including Landon Cassil/No.34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, who ran once around. Jones turned seven laps, getting out in his backup car which was thrown together after his tire wall encounter in Turn Eleven, in which he wrecked his car and damaged the tire barrier setup.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott/No.24 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet had an even harder hit in Turn Ten. He slammed into the concrete wall, first with the front end and then with the rear. The Cup Series youngest driver was evaluated and released from the infield care center, cleared to drive. He was able to get the car into the pits, where his crew parked it outside the garage where the team could dismantle it and salvage whatever parts could be saved. Inside his garage, the crew started to work on the backup car.

Elliott said “I just made a mistake. It was really my fault. I hate it for my teammates on the No. 24 team. They sure don’t deserve it. They worked hard this past week to get this car ready to come out here a long way from home. So, made a mistake and we shouldn’t be having that.”

Cole Whitt/No.72 RTIC Coolers Chevrolet slide in his own oil in Turn Seven and retired with a blown engine. This caused a caution for extensive cleanup and oil dry.

Five drivers of the 38 are making their Cup debut: Kevin O’Connell/No.15 SBC Contractors Inc Chevrolet; Alon Day/No.23 earthwater Toyota; Billy Johnson/No.43 Smithfield Ford; Josh Billicki/No.51 Marriott Chevrolet; and Tommy Regan/No.55 OscaroParts.com/Capri Tools Chevrolet. O’Connell is also entered in the Carneros 200 K&N Race Saturday afternoon and qualified 28th in the 32-car field, but withdrew at the last minute.

Alon Day

Alon Day

Day, who ran as high as eleventh before finishing 23rd in final practice, is the first Israeli to compete in NASCAR’s top tier Series. He comes from a mostly road-racing background. Day competes full-time in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and runs up front much of the time. Day comes to Sonoma fresh from his win last weekend at Brands Hatch in England. That series only has one oval (Netherlands) in its 12-race schedule. Those cars are more akin to the current K&N Series cars, much lower in horsepower and comfort. Day is racing for BK Motorsports, which is a Charter Team in the Cup Series and runs other drivers.

Johnson is also a road racer, coming from a sports car background. He races full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in the World Endurance Cup Series, and raced last weekend at the 24 Hours of LeMans. He also races full time in the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Series, where he has the most race wins. Johnson is also is a test driver for Ford Performance. The young American, with a Bus Ad degree, is substituting this weekend for Aric Amirola, who is recuperating from a race injury.

Next up is qualifying, road racing style. All cars will go out for thirty-minutes knock-out session, with the top twelve making it to a ten-minute shootout.

Cup Cars Qualifying Lineup

SONOMA SALUTATIONS!

Sonoma Sign

Martin Truex

Martin Truex

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers waited until the waning moments of the 115-minute long first practice at Sonoma Raceway to turn up the wick. Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota literally jumped to first in the last minute, with a lap of 1:15.740, the only driver to reach the fifteens.

The last ten minutes had three other leaders and top ten position changes. Truex edged Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota for the lead, who edged Ricky Stenhouse, Jr/No.17 Fastenal Ford, who edged Dale Earnhardt Jr/No.88 Axalta Chevrolet-who had led most of the session. While running third, Earnhardt was edged by Clint Bowyer/No.14 Cars 3 Ford, who won Sonoma in 2012. Chris Buescher/No.37 Kingsford Chevrolet jumped into the fifth slot, then dropped to sixth followed by his teammate and road race veteran, AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet.

Rounding out the top ten were Chase Elliott/No.24 Chevrolet, Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota, and Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Toyota.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr No.88

Clint Bower No.14

Chris Buescher No.37

AJ Allmendinger

Joey Logano No.22

Row One: Left to Right: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr; Dale Earnhardt, Jr; and Clint Bower
Row Two: Left to Right: Chris Buescher; AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano.

Big Blue Sweeper

Big Blue Sweeper

There was a Red Flag and two cautions and a Red Flag during the 115-minute session. The Red Flag was early on, to clean up the mess on the track caused by the off-course excursion by Ty Dillon/No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet. The track clean-up vehicles got a good workout. The caution was for Erik Jones/No.775-hour Energy Extra Strength Toyota, when he hit the Turn Eleven tire wall hard enough for it to dislodge the protective rubber conveyer belt. Neither driver was hurt, but Jones crew brought out his backup car. The second caution was for Matt Kenseth/No.20.DeWalt Flexvolt Toyota, who lost an engine.

Ty Dillon

Erik Jones

Matt Kenseth

Left to Right: Ty Dillon No.13 Chevrolet; Erik Jones No.77 Toyota; and Matt Kenseth No.20 Toyota.

Steve Page & Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Steve Page & Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The big feel-good moment of the day was the Sonoma Raceway President Steve Page’s presentation to Dale Earnhardt of a unique and definitely warm-and-fuzzy gift in honor of this being his last year of full-time NASCAR Cup racing. Knowing of Dale and wife Amy’s love for animals and wanting to do things which have a positive impact on the lives of others, Sonoma Raceway will sponsor three Labrador Retriever puppies being raised and trained to help child victims in courthouse settings, with disabilities at home and in the community. The puppies are named Dale, Junior and Amy. It was the first time I’ve ever seen Junior so surprised. He was also presented with a large Sonoma Raceway ceremonial wine bottle. Sonoma Salutation!

Sonoma Wine Bottle

The dogs were donated by Micons Labradors and Fieldstone Labradors, and will be trained by PALS Assistance Dogs. Another unique aspect of the thorough training process is that the dogs spend twice a week with incarcerated youth who assist in the training. Page said “Dale has such a huge following among our fans and we wanted to find a way for his legacy to carry forward locally, well beyond his days as a driver.”

Steve Page, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and PALS Nancy Pierson

Steve Page, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and PALS Nancy Pierson

At Sunday’s race the track will distribute 10,000 “Thanks, Junior” hand-held fans. And if there’s continuation of the warm weather the Greater Bay Area has been experiencing, the fans will be welcome. Additionally, in the pre-race ceremonies, there will be a highlight video, and the Patriots Jet Team will write “#88″ in the sky as part of their traditional aerial show.