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 Truex stayed out, although his Crew Chief, Cole Pearn, called an audible and then rescinded.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.”
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.”
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.