STEWART SMOKES SONOMA!

Tony Stewart

Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Tony Stewart/No.14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobil 1 Chevrolet squeezed by the battling Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Cares Toyota in Turn Eleven on the last lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 Race at Sonoma Raceway. Stewart touched Hamlin as they went in side by side, Hamlin bobbled, tagged the wall, and Stewart pulled ahead by 0.625 seconds to take his first victory in 84 races. Then Smoke, as he’s called, did just that spinning doughnuts and buzzing his motor up in Turn Seven. At the end of this season, Stewart retires from Cup racing and moves on to the second half of his race career.

This was Stewarts 49th win, his eighth road course victory, and his third victory at Sonoma. He led once, for 22 laps.

Stewart’s Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz said nothing else was working on their pit stops, so decided to go off-strategy and brought Stewart in during a late green flag run, when it sounded on the radio like there might be debris on the track. Five laps later there was a debris caution, and with 22 laps to go, Stewart took the lead, while there were wholesale pitstops by the pack.

Stewart lost the lead on the last lap in Turn Seven when the charging Hamlin passed him. The two raced around the last few turns going for the finish, while everyone held their collective breath watching them go through Turn Eleven, the last chance for a pass. And it happened, not exactly a surprise.

#14-Tony-Stewart. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Stewart was in a “must win” situation at Sonoma – being 35th in points and winless. In order to make The Chase, after missing eight races at the beginning of the season due to his broken back, he has to be in the top thirty in points and have a win. He delivered….barely. He’s now 32nd in the standings, narrowing the gap to the cutoff to nine points. And he’s got his obligatory win.

Stewart co-owns a NASCAR team of four cars with Gene Haas, and two of their cars are 1-2 in the Owner points – Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet and Kurt Busch/No.41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet – drivers who are still first and second in the Driver Standings, 35 points apart. Harvick has extended his contract with the team.

Stewart – ” They’re all good (wins), but this one is special. Hamlin told me he was so proud of me when he stuck his head in my window.” In talking about his last lap, Stewart said “I wasn’t going to be cordial going through that corner. If it was a street fight, he’d have two black eyes. I’m going for more wins, and I don’t lay down for anything. But if this is the last win, I’m OK with that.”

Tony-Stewart-leads-field-into-T2. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photo by Jeff Burghardt

Hamlin led twice for 30 laps, the most of any leader. He said “I shouldn’t have given him that opportunity. I allowed him to get a good run on me. I knew he was going to put me into the wall. He did what he had to do and I did what I had to do, and all’s fair in love and war.” He also said I”It was a great, fun race. We had the car good enough to win.” Regarding Stewart’s mood at this point, he opined “His give a shit factor is pretty low” as this was probably his best chance to get into the Chase. We just a little ‘heart to heart’ when I talked to him through his window after the race.”

#22 Joey Logano. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

#19-Carl-Edwards. Photo by Mike Burghardt

#19-Carl-Edwards. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photos by Jeff and Mike Burghardt.

Finishing third through fifth were Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Pole Sitter Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota, and Martin Truex/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota.

Tony-Stewart-leads-field-into-T2. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photo by Mike Burghardt

Sixth through tenth were Harvick, Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota, Ryan Newman/No.31 WIX Filters Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne/No.5 Great Clips Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch.

Logano said “We’re probably witnessing a historic moment in NASCAR today with Tony getting that win today. Shows he has what it takes. I started next to him and he was hammering it from the start. So, I said ‘We’ve got that Tony Stewart today.”

Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota had the pole position, led the first eight laps before being beaten on a restart by second fastest qualifier, A.J. Allmendinger/No.47 Ralphs/Kingsford Chevrolet. Edwards led twice for 24 laps, and turned the fastest race lap. He also won the Duralast Brakes “Brake in the Race” Award.

#47-AJ-Allmendinger-Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photo by Mike Burkhardt

Allmendinger led four times for 20 laps. He had an up and down day, finishing down after a penalty for “uncontrolled tire” during his last pit stop, which relegated him to the end of the pack of 35 cars at the last restart. AJ finished 14th after charging back through the pack after his penalty, and earned the Ingersoll Rand Power Move Award.

Other leaders, via recycling through pit stops, were Harvick for three laps, Kyle Busch once for two laps, Paul Menard/No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet once for three laps, and Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick/No.10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet once for three laps.

#24-Chase-Elliott. Photo by Mike Burkhardt

Photo by Mike Burkhardt

Chase Elliott/No.24 3M Chevrolet was the top Rookie, finishing 21st. This was his first time at the wine country road course.

Clint Bowyer/No.15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet didn’t have a great day. He started eighteenth, but retired early with an apparent ignition/electrical fire on Lap Eight. Bowyer got out of the car in a hurry and was unhurt. He will be the replacing Stewart in the No.14 next year, which will be a Ford when the team switches manufacturers.

Overall, it wasn’t the most exciting of races…until the last few laps. The leader packs didn’t change much. There was some good battles between Edwards and Allmendinger, between Hamlin and Truex battling Stewart, and it was fun to watch Allmendinger charging through the pack after his penalty. There were four cautions, one for Bowyer, debris when Austin Dillon/No.3 Dow/Utility Trailers Chevrolet had a problem in Turn One, spring rubber debris during a long boring parade stretch, and when Michael McDowell/No.95 Circle Sport Leave Chevrolet pulled off in Turn 10.

Five drivers were new to Sonoma Raceway: Rookies Elliott, Ryan Blaney/No.21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, and Brian Scott/No.44 Safeway/Blue Emu Ford, plus Chris Buscher/No.34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford and Dylan Lupton/No.93 Bell Bros Plumbing, Heat & Air/Elk Grove Toyota.

All the cars pulled for inspection passed – Stewart, Hamlin, Logano, Edwards, Truex and ‘random’ Blaney. Stewart and Hamlin’s cars go to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord NC for further inspection.

The weather was low nineties with somewhat of a breeze. The crowd looked impressive.

#11-Denny-Hamlin-leads-field-into-esses. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Photo by Mike Burghardt

PACE PICKED UP

Pit Lane Crowd Scene

Sunday breaks sunny and the Sonoma Raceway is filling up with fans for the 28th Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. The big news is that Toyota has renewed its race co-title sponsorship in a multi-year agreement. Toyota has been co-title sponsor for the past ten years, and is also the official vehicle sponsor of the track. Toyota will also continue as title sponsor of the track’s annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 preview show on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. The 30-minute special, which airs during the month of June, has been nominated for a sports Emmy award in past years.

The track has several entrances, which help control the traffic flow. I came through the Lakeville Road gate Saturday morning, a new experience for me. I was in awe at how much property the track actually owns, in between land parcels owned by the Sonoma Trust. I also was amazed at how many motorhomes and RV’s were seen along the way – not all visible from the paddock/pits. There were a lot of folks. Little villages with their allegiance flags waving in the breeze.

The track and its Traffic Manager work closely with the California Highway Patrol to control/lessen the traffic disruption for what is one of the Bay Area’s largest single-day sporting event. Thirty CHP and Cal Trans staff work the event. Up to 85 percent of the traffic by the circuit is non-race related (i.e. wine country interested.) Many informational directional signs are posted to direct towards those non-race fans who are looking for alternative routes throughout the area, the goal being to keep them away from the race track. Other posted directional signs point out the various entrance gates for fans, depending on their ticket/credential situation. Two sold-out Fun Trains come from the Sacramento area stopping right at the track’s front gate, the arrival of which is shown on the track’s live TV screens. Twenty-nine SportsFan Express shuttle busses bring traffic from around the Bay Area. Free parking on the many hills inside the track fill up, with shuttles running the fans back and forth to the paddock or their viewing areas. Strict monitoring of the DMV Handicap Placards allows those users to have their special parking.

It’s summer in California which means that the beautiful lush green from the winter’s less than hoped-for El Nino has turned to brown. To do its part towards fire mitigation and suppression, the track has its Wooly Weeders, a flock of more than 300 sheep which live on the property keeping everything nibbled to the nub. Additionally, for rodent control the track works with local owl agencies to provide owl nesting boxes throughout the property. Rats have ever-growing teeth in search of things upon which to gnaw, including wires and cords. The owls help the many garages and shops on site which don’t really like nibblers in their buildings and equipment yards.

Trylon-Bottom 20

Trylon- Top 20

The track has installed a new four-sided LED Trylon above Turn One, replacing the former installation. This gives more than 5,000 of square-foot LED screens showing track position of the race cars. The leaderboard display alternates between the top twenty race car positions and the bottom 20. Also new is the 84×12 Panasonic LED screen on the three-story Drag Tower opposite the John Cardinale Media Center and the second of the two Pit Lanes. This also gives the leaderboard information, as well as the laps completed and time remaining.

Sunday’s Race Day Schedule calls for a variety of fan-oriented activities. There are special tours and access events for specially credentialed fans. There is a PG&E Military STEM Job Fair, Stunt Plane Performance and the annual twenty-five minute Patriots Jet Demonstration Team Air Show, as well as a pre-race Concert performed by Jackson Michelson. There are the usual Ceremonial Introductions, Driver Introduction and it’s always fun to gauge which driver gets the biggest reaction, positive or negative. That is followed by the Driver track tour as part of the NASCAR pre-race ceremonies. Not to mention the Skydivers Jump.

After the race, the track is bringing back its popular track walk, which has two-fold consequences. It means fun for the fans who get to walk/see the track and have a pseudo-scavenger hunt for special lug nuts around the track redeemable for prizes; and it helps ease the flow of post-race traffic.

The weather will be in the low nineties and hopefully the typical afternoon breeze will kick in.

Let’s Go Racing!

NASCAR Paddock

FAST EDDY

Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota

Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota is the NASCAR Coors Lite pole winner for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway. His lap was 95.777 mph/74.799 seconds. Edwards narrowly edged last year’s pole sitter, AJ Allmendinger/No.47 Ralphs/Kingsford Chevrolet, who had just run what was then the top time-95.676 mph/74.878 seconds. Edwards had also been the fastest driver in the first qualifying session.

Carl Edwards

It was the nineteenth career pole position for Edwards, and third pole this season. He was presented with his Sonoma Raceway DriveSafe award in Victory Circle. This is the first pole for Edwards at Sonoma Raceway.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards. Photo by Jeff Burghardt.


“The car is fast. We’re out here in Toyota country here, in a Toyota for the Toyota. I’m really excited. It’s easy to mess up. I’m glad we hung on for the pole and just really excited. You’re looking at the guy who wrecked out last year. It’s one race I really look forward to all year. There’s no other track that you get to drive like this. You really get to – no lap is perfect here, like I said, you’re bouncing off of kerbs, you’re sliding around, you’re spinning the tires, you’re locking up brakes and this is what driving a race car is about.”

AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

Allmendinger said It was a struggle yesterday. This is definitely a big gain from where we were yesterday. There’s no pressure on me. Edwards has won here before. Best I’ve done is seventh. All we can do is our best. This is a big weekend for our sponsors, who are locally based – Clorox in Oakland and Ralphs here.”

For Sonoma’s qualifying, there were two qualifying sessions. In the first session all 41 cars ran, with the fastest 12 advancing to the second round to set the final field.

Third through fifth were Martin Truex Jr/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota; Kurt Busch/No.41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet; and Kyle Larson/No.42 Target Chevrolet.

Sixth through twelfth were Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Cares Toyota; Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford;Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota; Paul Menard/No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet; Tony Stewart/No.14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, who was finally getting better luck this weekend; his teammate, Danica Patrick/No.10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet; and Brad Keselowski/No.2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Current points leader, Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet qualified twenty-fifth. He ran seventeenth and eighteenth in the first and second practice sessions.

There are 36 Charter teams, which have guaranteed starting positions for their drivers. In the 41-car field, one unlucky driver didn’t make the 40-car field. In this case, it was Cody Ware/No.55 CarPort Empire Chevrolet.

Cody Ware

Cody Ware

I misspoke previously, saying there were no Rookies in the 2016 Cup field. There are three: Ryan Blaney/No.21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, Brian Scott.No.44 Safeway/Blue Emu Ford and Young Chase Elliott/No.24 3M Chevrolet, who took over the seat formerly occupied by retired NASCAR Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon. Elliott missed out making the top 12 for Cup qualifying, but he was the top qualifying Rookie for Sunday’s race, starting sixteenth. And icing on the cake for the son of NASCAR Champion, Bill Elliot – he has the pole for Saturday afternoon’s Chevy’s Fresh Mex 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series, West race.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott Cup Car. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

Chase Elliott K&N Chevrolet

Chase Elliott K&N Chevrolet

For the race, there are 20 Chevrolets, eleven Fords and nine Toyotas. Chevrolet currently leads the Manufacturer points with 606, followed by Ford with 559 and Toyota with 623.

Matt Kenseth’s No 20 Dollar General Toyota accumulated its fourth warning Saturday during pre qualifying inspection. As a result, the team will have last pit stall selection for Sunday’s race. Now the total reverts back to zero.

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon, retired NASCAR Champion and now Fox Sports TV analyst at NASCAR, is ending his first season in the TV booth with this weekend’s race. He met with the media Saturday morning, before calling the qualifying session. After this weekend, he’ll be able to spend more time with his family. He said he was flattered, in response to questions re is plans for the rest of this season, to have his name associated with ABC’s “Live” morning TV show which he has co-hosted in the past. “My priority is FOX and FOX Sports and NASCAR, so I will definitely be back in the booth next year. If there was something that would fit into and around that, great. I don’t know if that’s a reality, but it’s been really interesting kind of seeing that unfold. I really don’t have anything I can say about it.”

Gordon has a book coming out in October. “It’s been an amazing experience for me to reminisce with my stepdad (John Bickford) over all these great stories that have never been told before, including things with Bill and Gail Davis, to my experience at Hendrick and the success and things off the track and family and divorce and all these things that are all kind of brought in a way that I think has never been done before. So, yeah, looking forward to it. I mean, this summer, when summer is over, that’s what I’ll be ramping up towards, and being at the racetrack. So, looking forward to it.”

Saturday afternoon’s K&N race starts at 1pm local time, and Sunday’s Sprint Cup race starts at noon Pacific Daylight Time, airing live on Fox Sports 1, as well as PRN Radio, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90 and NASCAR.com.

FAST IS FAST

Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

The Ganassi Gang was on the go for the first practice for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway. Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet was the fastest driver Friday morning with a lap of 1:15.299/95.141 mph, the only driver to hit 95 mph. His teammate, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet was second, running 94.544 mph in 115.774 seconds. Their fastest times were turned near the end of the session.

AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Larson holds the qualifying record at Sonoma, set last year with a lap of 1:14.186/96.568 mph. It was in the first round of qualifying, but unfortunately not in the round that counted, giving the pole to another local driver, A.J. Allmendinger of Los Gatos CA in No.47 Ralphs/Kingsford Chevrolet. Allmendinger ran nineteenth in the morning session and fifteenth in the afternoon.

Third through fifth were Martin Truex Jr/No.78 furniture Row Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr/No.88 Axalta Chevrolet, and Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota. Edwards had led much of the 115-minute long session.

Larson grew up 90 minutes from the wine country circuit, in Elk Grove. He’s run 90 Cup races to date, and said it would be awesome to get his first win in his home state here, close to home. “This is probably one of my best tracks too. I really enjoy road course racing, especially here with friends and family that will be here. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know about pressure (from team owner Chip Ganassi, or teammates,) but it would be nice to be the next new person to win a Cup Series race. It’s been a long time since a new person has won. There are a crop of us young guys in our early 20’s that would like to get a win.” Larson reckons that since California has “got the best food there is that’s probably why California has always been a kind of racing hotbed.”

The morning temperature was in the low eighties with a breeze. The track temperature was upwards of 130 degrees F.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr./No.88 Axalta Chevrolet was fastest at the end of the afternoon practice session, turning a lap of 95.298 mph/115.175 seconds. He passed Casey Mears/No.13 GEICO Chevrolet mid-way through the session and the two remained one-two for the rest of the 105-minute session. Nine drivers eclipsed the 95 mph mark.

No.13 GEICO Chevrolet

The temperature cooled a bit to 84 degrees F, with a breeze.

Kyle Busch

Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

Third through fifth were Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Cares Toyota, Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota, and 2015 Cup Champion and last year’s Sonoma race winner, Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota. Busch was one of several drivers having fun riding the blue and gold kerbs in Turn Seven, inside/right side wheels airborne. Busch also took a ride on the wild side through the outside grass going through Turns Nine and Ten.

Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway President/General Manager, admits that when he took over the running of the Northern California circuit, the kerbs were red. A die-hard UC Berkeley grad, he exercised executive privilege a few years back and repainted the kerbs Cal’s iconic blue and gold.

Friday afternoon two well-known colorful characters in NASCAR were inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame: Retired Cup driver, Ernie Irvin and Tony Stewart/No.14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, who is running his last Sonoma Cup race this weekend. Stewart emphasized he was not retiring from racing, just from Sprint Cup race. “I’m getting ready to start the second half of my racing career.” He admitted he’s not feeling as good as “I thought I would with this being my last race here in Cup. “I’ve dedicated 18 years of my life to this series and it’s done great by me. But, at the same time there are other things in life I want to do other than be at a NASCAR track three days a week for 38 weekends out of 52 weekends a year. There is just not enough time to do everything you want to do. It’s time for me to do this. I’m just not sure what they (non-racing things) all are yet.”

Ernie Irvan

Ernie Irvan, Steve Page & Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart
Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway President/General Manager said Irvin’s amazing run in the 1992 Sonoma Cup race is the fan-voted top moment/event in the 25-year NASCAR history of the track. He started second, jumped the start earning a black flag to the rear of the field, and proceeded to work his way through the entire 43-car field to win the race.

Ernie Irvan and Tony Stewart

SONOMA SOLTICE PLUS

Sunoco Victory Lane

Three days after the Summer Soltice, sunny and warm California weather greeted the NASCAR folks Friday at Sonoma Raceway for the first of two road course races of the 2016 season. A light breeze kept it comfortable as the crews set up and readied their cars for the morning practice.

Two NASCAR series are on schedule this weekend – the premiere Sprint Cup Series with 41 cars entered for the 40-car field, and 31 car field for the K&N Pro Series, West.

No.88 Axalta Chevrolet

NASCAR Scrutineers in Cup Garage

No.21 Wood Bros Ford

Perhaps it was the beautiful weather. The pace seemed less rushed than usual as the teams prepared the cars for the obligatory scrutineering process, which involves lots of checks and measuring. Cars were being prepped in the garage stalls, pushed through various lines, and generally detailed for the first of two Friday practice sessions. Both series qualify Saturday morning.

Sunoco fuelers

Down at the Sunoco pumps, the cars are fueled by Sunoco gas men appropriately garbed in fire-resistance suits covered by a fuel-repellant apron, and standing on pig-mat, which absorbs any overflow. The pumps are grounded from the pump through to the truck and deep into the ground tanks.

No.93 Toyota

Although there are no Rookies in the Cup field, one driver will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Dylan Lupton from nearby Elk Grove CA will drive No.93 Bell Bros Plumbing, Heat & Air Toyota for BK Racing.

Patrick Carpentier in No.32 Ford

This year’s Sonoma race appears to have but one so-called ‘road race ringer.’ That’s the slang for a road racer brought in for the non-oval track races. This time it’s open-wheel racer with stock car chops, Patrick Carpentier from Quebec, Canada. He will be driving No.32 Can Am Ford. Mostly retired, the affable French-Canadian occasionally comes out to play; and the wine country stop is the first of two for him this year. G0 FAS Racing also hired Carpentier for the Brickyard 400 Cup race. Both circuits are familiar to him. He ran NASCAR with Ray Evernham for several years after winding down his road racing.

Spotting at Sonoma Raceway is crucial. All teams have at least one spotter – up above the RV’s on the hillside above Turns Two-Three. Some teams also have a second spotter on top of the three-story drag tower.

Fox TV Camera Crew

Fox Sports has set up one of its TV camera crews atop the hauler of Kasey Kahne/No.5 Great Clips Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. This is the last NASCAR Cup broadcast for the network, before the mid-season switch to NBC. This weekend marks the end of the Jeff Gordon’s debut season in the TV Broadcast Booth. He will be joined by Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds.

Sonoma is a ten-turn, 1.99-mile elevated road course. The highest point is 174 feet in Turn 3A, with Turn 10 being the lowest at 14 feet. a change of 160 feet each lap. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 race will run 110 laps, which equates to 350 kilometers/218.9-miles.

KYLE & KURT FINISH 1-2 AT SONOMA

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch. Photo by Bob Tarvin-Tarvin Images

Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota won the 27th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway, The new father may still walk with a limp from his February fractures, but he had a lead foot when it counted in the waning laps of the 110-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup race. He floored it from seventh place on the last restart and plowed through the field on new tires.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch Photos by Mike and Jeff Burghardt.

This was the fourth road course win for Kyle, second victory at the ten-turn, 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway, and his 30th Cup win. He now has the third most road course wins among the active Cup drivers.

It was the first Cup win for crew chief, Adam Stevens. After the checkered flag, Rowdy did heavy-duty doughnuts, spreading smoke far and wide. Mosquito abatement, NASCAR style.

Kurt Busch

Clint Bowyer

Kevin Harvick

Photos of Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick by Mike and Jeff Burghardt.

Second was big brother Kurt Busch/No.31 Haas Automation Chevrolet, who had started second. The Margin of Victory between them was 0.532 seconds. There is a seven year spread between the brothers, who started out racing Legends cars.

Clint Bowyer/No.15 5-Hour Energy Toyota was third from a sixth place start, followed by points leader Kevin Harvick/No.4 Folds of Honor/Outback Steakhouse/Budweiser Chevrolet, who started seventeenth. Kyle Busch and Harvick are now tied for 23rd place in all-time Cup wins.

Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford was fifth after starting nineteenth, the largest position gain in the field.

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon. Photo by Mike and Jeff Burghardt

It was the largest NASCAR crowd in the last decade, and some credit could be due to the track’s extensive promotion and it being the last race for local driver, Jeff Gordon/No.24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet. Gordon started fifth, ran as high as third, and fell back after the last restart on old tires, to finish a disappointing sixteenth.

The weather was hot, near low eighties, but the typical Sonoma breeze cut the heat quite nicely.

AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger. Photo by Mike and Jeff Burghardt

Pole sitter AJ Allmendinger in No.47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet led twice for a lap and ran strong behind Kurt Busch until the first pit stop. Then he fell afoul of fuel pressure issues, which required repairs in the garage. He returned to the fray, and worked back up to 37th place, 12 laps down.

Alex Kennedy/No.33 MediaCast Chevrolet was the top Rookie, finishing 25th on the lead lap from a 36th place start.

Despite the victory, Kyle Busch will still need to be 30th or better in the standings to make the Chase. He is 37th in the standings, due to missed races because of his months off for recovery/rehab after his February crash breaking his left leg and right foot. NASCAR granted a Chase-eligible dispensation to Kyle Busch. Ordinarily, a driver must run the entire season to make The Chase.

Twenty-seven drivers finished on the lead lap, and 37 finished overall. There were nine lead changes among five drivers – Johnson, Busch’s Kyle and Kurt, Bowyer and Allmendinger. Five was also the number of cautions, for 21 laps.

There were no issues with post-race inspections, and three cars were taken back to NASCAR’s R&D Center in North Carolina for further inspections – Kyle Busch’s Toyota, Kurt Busch’s Chevrolet, and Joey Logano’s Ford.

One would think there were targets painted on the tire walls and concrete blocks based on the number of hard hits and near misses. David Gilliland/No.38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford had his left front tire go down and he hit the tire wall hard in Turn Ten. That brought out the first caution, two tow trucks and five service vehicles to make repairs. It was during this four-lap caution that the designated Lap 24 fell, the time when all the Gordon fans did their Gordon wave. Yeley finished last in the race.

The second caution turned into a ten and a half-minute Red Flag after Martin Truex, Jr/No.78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet hit the left side Turn Eight tire wall so hard it pushed back the concrete blocks. He had been hit by David Ragan/No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. Up to that point, Truex had been doing well in his brand-new road course car, but his day ended with a forty-second position finish. Ragan continued. More down time for wall repair, including quality fork lift work.

JJ Yeley/No.23 Dr.Pepper Toyota had a hard hit to the right side Turn Ten tire wall, bringing out the third caution. He DNF’d in forty-first place.

Ragan was involved in another incident, crowding last year’s Sonoma winner, Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota into the right side Turn Eight tire wall causing Caution Four. This time Ragan wasn’t able to continue, nor was Edwards. They finished thirty-ninth and fortieth, respectively.

The wildest DNF honors fell to Casey Mears/No.13 GEICO Chevrolet. He had an axle failure in Turn Ten, and made it to the Turn Eleven infield, where the axle and left rear wheel went flying across the infield into a catch fence. Normally Cup cars have strong steel tethers to avoid just such situations; but in this case the axle housing failed so the whole shebang came off. Mears finished thirty-eighth.

QUOTES

Kyle Busch – “I can’t say enough about my medical team who got me back in shape and ready to go behind the wheel. My foot hurts a little bit, not as bad as I expected it to. It actually hurt worse in practice. I think I warmed it up on Friday. It felt pretty good on Friday.

“It was a fun race. The cautions and pitting when we did was an awesome strategy. It was a very good short-run car.”

He thanked a very long litany of sponsors.

Kurt Busch – “I wanted to deliver a win today. I just didn’t get the restart I wanted. We had a great car and I think we made a statement. Congratulations to my little brother. I don’t know how many races Busch’s finished 1-2, but I’ll let him win it. I thought we had the winning strategy with the cooler tires, rather than worn-out tires at the finish. I just ran out of laps to run down Kyle. I was a bit too patient.”

Bowyer – “I tried, just came up a little short. I tried to get up to him (Kyle Busch) and get a little rough with him, but it didn’t work. I made the effort, but it just didn’t come through for me. He had the right line and I didn’t. He beat me to the punch.”

Gordon was clearly disappointed with his finish. “It’s been a long time since I won. We tried hard.” He ran as high as third, but didn’t pit for tires on the last restart and fell back.

Jimmie Johnson/No.48 Lowes Pro Service Chevrolet led twice for the most laps – 45, but his two-stop strategy didn’t work. He finished sixth. JJ was one of five drivers who didn’t pit for tires on the last restart. It showed. “I felt pretty good at first as there were so many cars behind me and those who had new tires. About a lap and a half later, I didn’t feel so good.”

The next NASCAR Sprint Cup Race is the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola on Sunday 5 July at Daytona International Speedway. This marks the halfway point in the Cup schedule, and the first race for TV broadcast partner, NBC. Sonoma was the last race of the year with Fox Sports.

UNOFFICIAL RACE RESULTS.

1. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 2 hrs, 55 mins, 39 secs after 110 laps
2. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
3. Clint Bowyer Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
4. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
5. Joey Logano Team Penske Ford
6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
8. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
9. Ryan Newman Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
10. Sam Hornish Jr. Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
11. Jamie McMurray Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
12. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
13. Paul Menard Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
14. Aric Almirola Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
15. Kyle Larson Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
16. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
17. Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
18. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
19. Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing Ford
21. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
22. Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Ford
23. Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Racing Ford
24. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
25. Alex Kennedy Circle Sport Chevrolet
26. Boris Said Go FAS Racing Ford
27. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Racing Ford
28. Josh Wise Phil Parsons Racing Chevrolet – 1 lap
29. Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Toyota – 1 lap
30. Justin Marks Front Row Motorsports Ford – 1 lap
31. Alex Bowman Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet – 1 lap
32. Jeb Burton BK Racing Toyota – 1 lap
33. Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Chevrolet – 1 lap
34. Michael McDowell Leavine Family Racing Ford – 1 lap
35. Justin Allgaier HScott Motorsports Chevrolet – 3 laps
36. Landon Cassill Hillman Smith Motorsports Chevrolet – 11 laps
37. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet – 12 laps
38. Casey Mears Germain Racing Chevrolet – 13 laps Rear Axle
39. David Ragan Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota – 32 laps Accident
40. Carl Edwards Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 32 laps Accident
41. J.J. Yeley BK Racing Toyota – 39 laps Accident
42. Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet – 79 laps Accident
43. David Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford – 90 laps Accident

UNOFFICIAL DRIVERS’ STANDINGS

1. (–) Kevin Harvick 616pts
2. (–) Martin Truex Jr. 563pts (-53pts)
3. (–) Joey Logano 559pts (-57pts)
4. (+1) Jimmie Johnson 546pts (-70pts)
5. (-1) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 545pts (-71pts)
6. (–) Brad Keselowski 505pts (-111pts)
7. (–) Jamie McMurray 497pts (-119pts)
8. (+1) Kasey Kahne 483pts (-133pts)
9. (-1) Matt Kenseth 479pts (-137pts)
10. (+1) Kurt Busch 469pts (-147pts)
11. (-1) Jeff Gordon 462pts (-154pts)
12. (–) Paul Menard 452pts (-164pts)
13. (–) Denny Hamlin 438pts (-178pts)
14. (+2) Ryan Newman 435pts (-181pts)
15. (–) Aric Almirola 431pts (-185pts)
16. (+1) Clint Bowyer 430pts (-186pts)

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon. Photo by Mike and Jeff Burghardt

RED RACE RECAP

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Photo courtesy of GM News Photos

Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet dominated Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 27th Annual Quicken Loans Race for Heroes, leading 264 of the 312 laps. This was his sixth victory at Phoenix International Raceway, and 27th Cup win in 501 starts. Harvick’s Margin of Victory over runner-up, Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet, was 1.636 seconds.

Third through fifth were Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford; and pole sitter Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota – who fought back hard after a long early pit stop for flat tires and body damage.

Sixth through tenth were Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford; Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet; Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet; Greg Biffle No.16 Sherwin Williams Ford, who gained the most positions coming from twenty-sixth to finish ninth; and Aussie Marcos Ambrose No.9 Stanley Ford, who is running his next to last Cup race before returning to his homeland to rejoin the V8 Supercars.

The only Chase contender not to finish in the top ten was Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet. His last lap move into eleventh position garnered him a Chase slot for next weekend’s shootout. Newman bumped Rookie Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet to gain the position and the valued point.

Larson ran as high as second at one point, before finishing thirteenth – the top Rookie.

The race was notable for more than Harvick’s victory. A three-minute Red Flag was displayed, to clean up debris after three cars came together – two who retired – Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy Toyota and Rookie Cole Whit No.26 16T fuelxx/TapoutMuscle Recovery Toyota; and Kyle Busch No.18 Benfield Pet Hospital Toyota, who continued but finished four laps down.

Five of the record-high 12 cautions were for debris, not including the Red Flag. A total of 58 laps were run under the Yellow Flag.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 44. Before that pole sitter Hamlin led for 24 laps, followed by Logano for seven, David Ragan No.34 Taco Bell Ford for two laps during pit stops and Logano again for eight laps. Harvick led three times. Earnhardt led four laps and Rookie Michael Annett No.7 Accell Construction Chevrolet led a lap during pit stops. Annett finished twenty-sixth after starting thirtieth.

The four drivers remaining in The Chase are: Hamlin-4112 points and one win; Logano-4111 points and five wins; Newman with 4103 points and no wins; and Harvick with 4102 points and four wins. Newman has a one in four chances to become the first Champion with no victories.

Despite several accidents, no drivers were injured – just their pride and their cars.

Kenseth turned the race’s fastest race lap.

Twenty-five drivers finished on the lead lap, and thirty-eight drivers finished the race in some form or another.

All cars cleared Tech, and the two cars sent to the NASCAR R&D Center in North Carolina belonged to Harvick and Gordon.

One indication of the importance of Social Media, and of those who pay attention: NASCAR’s Brett Jewkes tweeted post-race that “Social media volume up exactly 100 percent for today’s race over last year. Does not include post-race.”

The Chase will crown a victor next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

HARVICK SMOKES IT

Kevin Harvick Painting

Red was the color of the day at Phoenix International Raceway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. Red is the car color of the top two race finishers – Harvick record-high PIR race winner Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet – his sixth PIR Cup victory and second this year; and the color of the flag displayed for debris cleanup after the crash of Clint Bower No.15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, Kyle Busch No.18 Banfield Pet Hospital and Cole Whitt No.26 16T fuelxx/Tapout Muscle Recovery Toyota.

PIR has been described as Harvick’s ‘Personal Playground.’ This victory marked the sixth time motorsports artist, Bill Patterson, has painted Harvick’s car in Gatorade Victory Lane. Harvick’s first win in 2006 was the first time PIR had Patterson do the iconic paintings, which are hung at PIR offices.

Bill Patterson Painting in Progress

Bill Patterson Painting in Progress

Bill Patterson Painting Completed

After winning, Harvick did a championship-caliber burnout, nearly eclipsing his red Chevrolet. And he had reason to celebrate. Harvick’s victory kept him in the Chase, barely, with 4102 points, and last of the top four to make The Chase. For Homestead, he and the other three contenders will reset their points at 5000.

Harvick said “Wow. I guess that is what it feels like to hit a walk off in extra innings here. This thing both races here has just been bad to the bone. This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year. To do that in front of all your almost hometown fans and all these people who have been rooting for me since the mid-90’s is pretty unbelievable. This win has to stack up there in the top five for sure. Mostly for the fact that our backs were against the wall and there was really only one way in and that was to win the race.”

Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet edged up on the last lap to make The Chase with his eleventh place finish, which gave him 4103 points.

Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota leads The Chase with 4112 points, followed by Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford at 4111.

Those not making The Chase: Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet, who finished second with 4102 points; Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota, finishing third with 4100 points; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford in fourth place/4095 points; and Carl Edwards No.99 Fastenal Ford, finishing fifteenth/4088 points.

The last Chase Race is Sunday 16 November 2014 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Victory Celebration

PRE-RACE FUN IN THE SUN

Rattlesnake Hill

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Pre-Race Activities

Pre-Race activities are always colorful at a NASCAR Sprint Cup race and Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway was no different. It was sensory overload with all the colors, sounds (F-16’s from Luke’s Air Force Base, fireworks, air gun, etc,) motion, and activities. Up on Rattlesnake Hill, the folks have a grande view of the entire scene, with all the comforts of home that can be trekked up the rocky hillside.

Five of the eight Chase drivers start 1-5: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon starts seventh, Carl Edwards at thirteenth, and Ryan Newman in twentieth place. Four will move onto the final round next week at Homestead.

All drivers will start in their qualifying position – no cars to the rear this weekend.

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Pre-Race Activities

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To my untrained and mostly deaf ears during Driver Intros, it seemed that Dale Earnhardt Jr received the loudest acclaim, although Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick also were well-received. To no one’s surprise Brad Keselowski received the loudest negative reaction, although Kyle Busch ran a close second. The fans do love to hate their drivers.

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Kyle Busch & Kevin Harvick

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PENULTIMATE PHOENIX

Chase Decals

Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be the second-to-last in the Race for the Chase. Sundays race of 312 laps/miles will drop another four drivers from the Chase, leaving just four Cup drivers going for the Championship at Homestead next weekend. Involved drivers have decals over their driver doors indicating victories and in some case, status.

Johnson's Chase Decals

Harvick's Chase Decals

Earnhardt's Chase Decals

The drivers at battle Sunday are, in points order: Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford; Sunday’s pole sitter, Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota; Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet; Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet; Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota; Carl Edwards No.99 Fastenal Ford; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford; and Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, out in the Cup Garage, activity has increased ten fold. Engines are running at top decibel, fans are thronging everywhere in their own chase for autographs, photos, selfies and the like. Pit Tours are being led. Various members of the military and first responders are guests of the track, sponsors or teams as a Thank you. Tuesday is the American’s Veteran’s Day and in England/Canada, Sunday is Remembrance Day.

More than a few teams have Military and First Responders graphics on their race cars.

Support Military Ribbon

McMurray's Fallen Fire Fighters

AJ Allmendinger's Car

Speaking of graphics on cars, the Carlos Cardoso above the passenger door of Jamie McMurray’s No.1 Liftmaster Chevrolet is honoring the retirement of the CEO of associate sponsor, Kennametal. And on the rear bumper of AJ Allmendinger’s No.47 GLAD Trash Bags Chevrolet is another retirement honorific.

Ken Clapp Chairman of the Board for The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2015 at a special Press Conference at PIR.

In alpha order, they are:

Jerry Baxter, Crew Chief now for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He got his starts in Southern California building and overseeing race car construction, buying Baldwin Engineering. He directed Michael David’s winning K&N Pro Series West championship and then moved to North Carolina to work on Cup teams.

Ken Clapp

Ken Clapp

John Cardinale, the late Vice President of Communications, at what is now known as Sonoma Raceway. During his 20-year track tenure he was an active BOD member of the WCSCHOF, and “made more friends among the automotive media in California than virtually anyone else in the business.” He died way too young from stomach cancer.

Jason Leffler of Long Beach CA had a very successful midget car career, winning three consecutive USAC Championships 1997-1999. He was also successful in USAC Midgets, Silver Crown before moving to NASCAR three top tier series.He returned to open wheel racing and sprint cars, and was killed in a racing crash last year at Bridgeport Speedway.

Warren Razore of Seattle was a successful businessman who became a K&N Pro Series West stock car team owner with victorious drivers such as Roy Smith and Derrike Cope. He died young from complications of Hodgkin’s Disease.

Doug Richert

Doug Richert

Doug Richart has been involved in stock cars since his teens, becoming the youngest championship wining crew chief in Sprint Cup racing when he ran Dale Earnhardt’s first championship in 1980. Since then he has been crew chief for a variety of owners and teams, including Ron Hornaday’s 1996 title in the NASCAR Truck Series. In 509 career Cup starts spanning 25 years, he was chief for 13 victories, 67top fives, 119 top tens and five poles.

Jim Williams used his successful beef supply company to sponsor cars owned by Roger Penske, and for Al Unser’s fourth Indy 500 win. He also was a major force behind the creation of Irwindale Speedway and the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Dr. Paul Kozak

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IMG_4260Among those seen in the Cup Garage Sunday morning, showing around other doctors, was PIR track doctor, Dr. Paul Kozak of the Mayo Clinic. Nice to see that he’s not busy in the Medical Center.

And now, for two more photos from Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DAV 200 Race.

PIR NNS Winner, Joey Logano

PIR NNS Winner, Joey Logano

2014 NNS Champion, Chase Elliott

2014 NNS Champion, Chase Elliott