NASCAR Wire , Holly Cain
Photo : NASCAR / GETTY
Sonoma Raceway gears up for the NASCAR Cup Series
The NASCAR Cup Series annual trek to Sonoma Raceway in California wine country remains one of the most anticipated stops on the schedule and Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) looks to be the race’s next great competitive chapter.
The top-six drivers in the standings, from leader Chase Elliott to sixth place Joey Logano, are separated by only 40 points. Three drivers ranked in the top-10 – Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell - are still looking for their first victory of the season.
And defending race winner Kyle Larson hasn’t won a race since February 27 at Auto Club Speedway, the last time the series raced in his native California, 13 races ago.
This week NASCAR has elected to run a different version of the iconic Sonoma Raceway road course – a shorter 1.99-mile configuration that eliminates the 'carousel' – Turns 4-7 – used since 2019. The longer straight known as the 'chute' is expected to increase passing opportunities.
Truex, whose three wins and 213 laps led is most among active drivers at Sonoma, heads west hopeful to punch his automatic Playoff ticket. He’s won twice and finished third in the last three races there.
And this week his former championship crew chief Cole Pearn will serve as an engineer on Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew – the first time Pearn has worked in the series since he left the sport following the 2019 season. Truex is hoping that familiar relationship will result in a maiden 2022 victory. He has seven top-10 finishes on the season and led laps last week at Gateway, Ill.
“I love going there, I love the racetrack, but this week is a huge question mark for everyone – new car, new tires, five gears instead of four, different brakes and different everything," Truex said this week.
“There’s a big question mark of if our old approach will still work there. Not just the way I drive the car, but how is the tire going to be and what will the falloff be? … A lot of things up in the air, but we’re doing everything we can to show up ready to go on Saturday for practice and qualifying and then the race on Sunday.”
Truex certainly expects he’ll have to better two of the series’ best road course drivers this weekend in championship leader Chase Elliott and defending race winner Kyle Larson. Last year Larson beat his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott by .614-seconds to take the Sonoma win.
Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, was runner-up to Elliott at Austin, won the Sonoma, Watkins Glen, N.Y. and Charlotte road course races and finished third at the Indianapol