Facts & Stats Friday: NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway

Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle
7 min readJun 9, 2023

9 June 2023
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News

SONOMA, CA — Road course racing in California’s epic wine region makes NASCAR’s visit to Sonoma Raceway one of the highlights of the season. The road course has changed a bit over the years, but NASCAR seems to have landed on the 1.99 Mile version with the Cup Series racing 110 laps for 350 Kilometers / 226.8 Miles. Sunday’s race is at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. This weekend will be the second of six road courses on the schedule this year (COTA, Sonoma, Road America, Indianapolis RC, Watkins Glen and Charlotte ROVAL). 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick took the first road course victory of the year at Circuit of The Americas back in March.

Sonoma Raceway (Getty Images)

There have been 33 NASCAR Cup Series races at Sonoma Raceway since the first race there in 1989 — one race per season — until the 2020 season. Due to the pandemic, the series did not compete at Sonoma Raceway in 2020.

The 33 NASCAR Cup Series races at Sonoma Raceway have produced 18 different pole winners and 21 different race winners. NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon leads the series in both poles (five: 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005) and wins (five: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006) at Sonoma Raceway.

Of the 18 different pole winners at Sonoma, three are active this weekend, led by Hendrick Motorsport’s driver Kyle Larson with four poles (2017, 2018, 2019, 2022).

And five of the 21 different Cup Series Sonoma Raceway winners are active this weekend, led by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. with three wins (2013, 2018, 2019).

All the on-track action begins for the NASCAR Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, June 10 from 5–7 p.m. ET with practice and Busch Light Pole Qualifying on FS2.

Road course aces to watch for in California this weekend

Arriving this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the NASCAR Cup Series has baker’s dozen (13) of former road course winners entered in the Toyota / Save Mart 350 and five of them are looking for their first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season — Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and defending Sonoma winner Daniel Suárez.

Three new drivers were added to the NASCAR Cup Series road course winners list last season; including 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who earned two road course wins last season driving for Richard Childress Racing at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, and also Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain, who won his first career Cup Series race at Circuit of The Americas, and Daniel Suárez, who earned his first career Cup Series win at Sonoma Raceway.

“It was such a crazy day and I had so many thoughts in my head,” said Daniel Suárez reflecting on last year’s Sonoma win. “I mean, it was a rough road getting to Victory Lane, but that moment was so worth it. Not just for me but for my family, Julia, these guys believe in me — Trackhouse Racing, Justin Marks, Ty Norris. Everyone that helped me to get to this point. A lot of people in Mexico — Jay Morales and Carlos Slim. My family, they never give up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t. I was just very happy we were able to make it work.”

Of the five former road course winners entered this weekend looking for their first win of the season, Chase Elliott will most likely have the biggest spotlight focused on him on Sunday. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Elliott, has been sidelined twice this season from injury (six races) and suspension (one race) and returns this week needing a win to make the Playoffs this season. Elliott leads all active drivers in road course wins with seven (Watkins Glen, two wins; Charlotte ROVAL, two wins; Road America, one win; COTA, one win).

“For me personally, just looking forward to getting back to work and just trying to get in a groove because I don’t really feel like I’ve been in one throughout the year,” Elliott said. “It’s been kind of stop-and-go all season, unfortunately. But the way I see it is there’s 11 races left, and we pretty much need to go win one of those to get in (the Playoffs). So that’s where my head’s at right now.”

Though Elliott hasn’t won at Sonoma, he has made six series starts posting two top fives and four top 10s. His average finish at Sonoma is 13.3. Plus, he has some stout pre-race Loop Data stats as well — Average Running Position (11.474, second-best), Driver Rating (97.6, second-best), Fastest Laps Run (27, eighth-best), and Laps in the Top 15 (410 laps, 65.9%, 11th-most).

Though Elliott undoubtedly will be a force to contend with this weekend, the remaining four drivers that are former road course winners looking for their first win of 2023 are nothing to sneeze at.

Defending Sonoma winner, Daniel Suárez, has made five series starts at Sonoma posting one win and average finish of 12.2 — best among active drivers with more than one start. Suárez has also led 47 laps on the 1.99-mile track.

Suárez’s Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain has made three starts at Sonoma posting two top-10 finishes, including a seventh-place finish in last season’s race.

Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger is always a contender for the win when the NASCAR Cup Series competes on road courses. Allmendinger not only has a two Cup Series road course wins, but he also has the all-time most road course wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with 11 of 16 career wins coming on road courses. Allmendinger has made 11 series starts at Sonoma posting two top-10 finishes.

Last but not least, is Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick who will be competing at Sonoma Raceway for the final time this weekend, as Harvick has announced his retirement from full-time racing at the end of the season. In his illustrious career, Harvick has already put up two road course wins in the NASCAR Cup Series; including one at Sonoma Raceway in 2017, and one at Watkins Glen International in 2006. In total, Harvick has made 21 series starts at Sonoma putting up one win, seven top fives and 11 top 10s.

NASCAR will run the Road Course and Selected Short Track Package at Sonoma

NASCAR has announced this season updates to the components of the NASCAR Cup Series car for races held at road courses and short tracks (excluding Bristol and Dover). The Road Course and Selected Short Track Package will consist of the following:

  1. 2” Spoiler
  2. Remove Engine Panel Strakes
  3. Remove Center and Inner Diffuser Strakes. Only the Outer Diffuser Strakes will remain installed. Spacers will be installed between the diffuser flap and diffuser due to removing the inner diffuser strakes.
  4. Remove Diffuser Fences and Replace with Baseline Fences.
  5. Splitter stuffers will remain unchanged from the current components.

The rules are in place at the following tracks: Charlotte Roval, Chicago Street Course, Circuit of The Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Martinsville, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, Richmond, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Playoff Bubble Shuffle: Chastain loses points lead, Bowman outside Playoff cutoff looking in

While Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch was grabbing his third win of the season last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway, several positions on the Playoff bubble started to shuffle. One of the biggest moves from last week, was the winless Ross Chastain losing the points lead and his guaranteed spot in the postseason. With Chastain dropping to fourth and Ryan Blaney taking the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings lead already having a win this season, it has opened-up an additional spot for drivers to get in on wins or points. Heading to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, six spots are up for grabs in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The 10 drivers that have earned a spot in the Playoffs by virtue of wins this season are William Byron, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The six drivers currently occupying the remaining postseason spots on points are 11. Kevin Harvick (+166 points ahead of cutoff), 12. Ross Chastain (+159), 13. Brad Keselowski (+96), 14. Chris Buescher (+86), 15. Bubba Wallace (+27) and 16. Daniel Suárez (+6).

Falling one spot to 17th after a 26th-place finish at Word Wide Technology Raceway last weekend, Alex Bowman is six points back from defending Sonoma Raceway winner, Daniel Suárez in 16th — the final transfer spot on points to the Playoffs. Not far behind Bowman is rookie Ty Gibbs in 18th in the Playoff outlook, 15 points back from Suárez.

Currently five drivers that made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs last season are below the cutline this year — Alex Bowman (17th, -6 points), Austin Cindric (19th, -33 points), Chase Elliott (27th, -98 points), Austin Dillon (29th, -113 points), and Chase Briscoe (31st, -138 points).

TAKE A BREAK
REMINDER: NASCAR is off Father’s Day Weekend. Racing continues June 23–25 at Nashville Superspeedway.

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association