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.

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