NASCAR National Series Preview: Pattern Of Parity At Sonoma Raceway

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Save Mart 350 LogoYou don’t have to be Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking to notice the pattern of parity at Sonoma Raceway.

The last 10 races at the road course have produced 10 different winners. Two of those drivers – Tony Stewart in 2005 and Jimmie Johnson in 2010 – went on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

All 10 previous winners will compete for the checkered flag in Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (3 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1): Carl Edwards (2014), Martin Truex Jr. (2013), Clint Bowyer (2012), Kurt Busch (2011), Jimmie Johnson (2010), Kasey Kahne (2009), Kyle Busch (2008), Juan Pablo Montoya (2007), Jeff Gordon (2006) and Tony Stewart (2005).

The only track with a longer active streak of different winners is New Hampshire Motor Speedway with 11.

Ring It Up: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Engages In Some Road Course Racing
For 12 consecutive years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has held the title of “NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.” As of a week ago, he now has a new one: ‘fiancé.’

Earnhardt proposed to his girlfriend Amy while on a vacation in Germany (spoiler alert: she said yes), and sealed the deal with a shiny engagement ring. The circular ring is meant to be a symbol of eternity. So it’s odd timing that Earnhardt now heads to one of the few NASCAR tracks that isn’t a circle – Sonoma Raceway.

It took a while, but Earnhardt might finally love Sonoma as much as Amy. After 15 starts, he got his first top-10 finish at Sonoma last year, a third-place result. Still, his average Sonoma finish of 20.3 makes the track tied with Homestead for his second worst, behind only Watkins Glen (22.4), the other road course track in the series.

Earnhardt has all but locked up a spot in this year’s Chase thanks to a win at Talladega, and now aims to grow his Chase bonus points total. All 16 Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000 to start the Chase, with three additional bonus points added for each win in the regular season.

Tappin’ The Rockies In Wine Country: McMurray Goes For Another Sonoma Coors Light Pole
Most people visit Sonoma for the wine.

Jamie McMurray prefers its Coors Light (Pole Award, anyway).

The No. 1 Chevrolet driver has won the last two Coors Light Pole Awards at Sonoma Raceway. His 2007 Sonoma pole gives him three for his career at the West Coast road course.

McMurray turned last year’s pole into a fourth-place finish. Otherwise, he hasn’t done well at Sonoma. His only other top-10 finish there was a runner-up showing in 2004.

NoCal Products Hoping For Home Cooking
Though Jeff Gordon wears the crown as ‘Homecoming King,’ two other local drivers can upend him in Sonoma – Kyle Larson, from Elk Grove, and AJ Allmendinger from Los Gatos. Larson, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year, finished 28th in his lone Sonoma start, last season. Allmendinger has two top 10s at Sonoma, and won last year’s Watkins Glen race – the second of two NSCS road-course races.

Follow Him If You Want To Win! Schwarzenneger Saddles Up As Sonoma Pace Car Driver
Arnold Schwarzenneger is a man with many talents, and faces.

He’s been a Terminator, Mr. Freeze, a governor, even a kindergarten cop.

On Sunday, he will lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to green as the Official Pace Car Driver for the Toyota / Save Mart 350.

Schwarzenneger will pilot a 2016 Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle that emits only water from its exhaust. It will be the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle used as a pace car in Sonoma. As Governor, Schwarzenegger championed and established California’s Hydrogen Highway, the nation’s first network of hydrogen fueling stations.

The long-time actor/bodybuilder/politician joins a star-studded list of celebrities who have participated in NASCAR festivities this year, including: Vince Vaughn, Guy Fieri, Bill Goldberg, SpongeBob SquarePants and Rob Gronkowski.

Hopefully, he’ll be back.

Stewart A Mobil(e) One At Sonoma
Tony Stewart – a multi-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and sure-fire NASCAR Hall of Famer – has struggled so far in 2015.

He claims only one top-10 finish–a sixth-place showing in a wild rainy race at Bristol in April.

Still, Stewart can make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a win and top-30 points finish.

Sonoma Raceway could be where he clinches that win.

The No. 14 Chevrolet driver is a Mobil(e) one at the Northern California Race track. (Get it? Mobil 1 is his sponsor. #punny)

Stewart owns two wins (12.5%), five top fives (31.2%), nine top 10s (56.2%) and a Coors Light Pole Award in 16 starts at Sonoma. Among active drivers at the 1.99-mile road course, he boasts the most fastest laps run (79), the second-best average running position (12.0), the second-most quality passes (274) and the third-best driver rating (98.8).

Bowyer Aims For First Win At Strongest Track
Clint Bowyer has a reputation as a short-track ace. But in actuality, his best track is the Sonoma Raceway road course. He has an average finish there of 9.2, which make the Northern California track his best. He comes into this race with four consecutive top 10s at Sonoma, including a win in 2012.

In that 2012 win, Bowyer had an incredible average running position of 1.8, along with 71 laps led and a driver rating of 142.8 (a perfect rating is 150.0).

History Lesson: All Gordon All The Time (Except for the First Couple of Years)
Jeff Gordon will retire as the winningest driver in Sonoma Raceway history. Despite more than 20 years of dominance at the track, winning did not always come easy for the California native.

Gordon has five wins at the Northern California track, including three in a row from 1998-2000. But as the old adage goes, Gordon had to first experience the agony of losing at his “home track” before achieving the ecstasy of victory.

In 1996, Gordon started sixth and worked his way into the lead on Lap 57 of 74. A late caution set up a restart with six laps remaining with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace lining up second, behind Gordon. Wallace was able to pass Gordon for the win shortly after the restart, with Gordon eventually finishing sixth.

The following season, Gordon started third and was on race leader Mark Martin’s bumper throughout the final lap. Gordon gave one last attempt to get around Martin in the hairpin turn but came up short once again.

In 1998, everything clicked for Gordon, who started the weekend by winning his first Sonoma pole. Gordon led 48 laps, including the final 11, to win his first road course race and move into first place in the standings. It also kicked off a remarkable stretch of seven wins in nine races that propelled Gordon to his third career championship.


Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Team Heading In The Right Direction
Following the winning return of Kyle Busch two weeks ago at Michigan and then the triumphant win this past weekend at Chicagoland with driver Erik Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 team has taken back-to-back trips to Victory Lane and has begun their ascent up the NASCAR XFINITY Series car owner points.

Joe Gibbs has been a perennial challenger for the NASCAR XFINITY Series owner’s title for the last several seasons, claiming the honors in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012 (most all-time). But this season the JGR teams haven’t been quite as dominant in years past. That looks to be changing. In the last two weeks the No. 54 team has moved up two spots in the car owner standings, from 10th to eighth – 88 points behind Roger Penske’s No. 22 team in the standing lead.

The No. 54 team is led by crew chief Chris Gayle with a rotation of drivers involving Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Boris Said.

In 2015, the No. 54 team has posted two wins (Michigan, Chicago), six top fives, eighth top 10s and an average finish of 11.6.

Dillon, Elliott Have Work To Do To Catch Points Leader Buescher
Chris Buescher’s relentless consistency has him pulling away in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings, putting the pressure square on second-place Ty Dillon (-29) and third-place Chase Elliott (-43) to find a way to catch him.

In three of the last five races Buescher has finished ahead of both Dillon and Elliott; including his fifth-place finish last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Buescher’s ability to finish well this season is unmatched among NXS championship contenders; he has zero DNFs and hasn’t finished lower than 20th all season. He leads all championship contenders in average finish as well – Buescher (7.1), Ty Dillon (8.5) and Chase Elliott (9.8).

Dillon and Elliott could possibly start to make some in-roads on the points gap Buescher has built in the next three races coming up on the schedule (Daytona, Kentucky, New Hampshire). Ty Dillon has the best average finish among the three during those events – Dillon (8.0), Buescher (8.2) and Elliott (12.3).

Here’s a nothing stat that should make the Dillons and Elliotts of the world feel a bit better: Just two years ago, Regan Smith held a commanding lead after 14 races. The eventual champion that season: Austin Dillon, who was in fourth, 45 points back after 14 races in 2013.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Suarez Closes Points Gap On Wallace
After posting his fifth top-10 finish of the 2015 season, Daniel Suarez closed the points gap between him and Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings leader Darrell Wallace Jr. to just seven points. Suarez’s seventh-place finish last weekend was a career-best at Chicago.

Suarez has posted one top five, five top 10s and an average finish of 15.3 this season. He is also 10th in the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship standings.

Impressive Debut For Ross Kenseth, What’s Next?
Like father, like son. Clearly, Ross Kenseth inherited some of his father Matt’s racing talent. The younger Kenseth took full advantage of the opportunity to compete for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 car for one race this season last weekend at Chicago, starting second and finishing the race sixth. In the process he is now tied with Joey Logano, Scott Riggs and Jon Wood for the 10th-best NASCAR XFINITY Series debut since 2000.

Kenseth isn’t currently signed to run anymore events this season, but he is hoping his brief performance in the lime light will garner some interest in getting him back behind the wheel.

“To come out here on a one-off deal and get the results we did speaks wonders about our team,” Kenseth said. “I hope we made everyone proud and I hope we get to do it again in the future.”

Ross Kenseth became the 43rd driver in series history to lead at least one lap in his NXS career debut. Kenseth’s top-10 finish this past weekend was the 10th of the season for the JGR No. 20 team.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Statistical Snapshot Following Race No. 14
The NASCAR XFINITY Series has reached its third off week of the season, which gives us the opportunity to look back at some of the statistical highlights of 2015 thus far.
· Number of different winners – 8
· Number of different Coors Light Pole winners – 6
· Green Flag Passes – 25,910, the most through 14 races since the inception of loop data in 2005.
· Green Flag Passes for the Lead – 364, which ranks second through 14 races since the inception of loop data in 2005.
· Average Leaders Per Race – 6.36
· Average Lead Changes Per Race – 11.79
· Total Number of Leaders – 34
· Percentage of Car Running At The Finish – 80.18% (second highest percentage all-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series behind 2006, 83.06%)


Erik Jones Finishes The Deal At Iowa For First Win Of Season
After knocking on the door of victory countless times this season, Jones notched his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of the year at Iowa Speedway.

The 19-year-old NASCAR Next alum became the first full-time series driver this season to win from the Pole, leading 112 of 200 laps on his way to Victory Lane.

Jones’ triumph marked his first Truck Series win since last November at Phoenix – eight races prior. Before his latest winless spell, Jones never went four races without a victory.

The Michigan native continues to dominate the NCWTS loop data statistics. He ranks first in average start (2.3), average running position (3.6), percentage of quality passes (93.1%), fastest laps (402), laps led (592) and driver rating (127.4).

Jones followed his Iowa victory with a first-place NASCAR XFINITY Series finish at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday. He is the first driver to sweep a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at two different tracks.

Brandon Jones, Spencer Gallagher Lead GMS To Strong Iowa Showing
Brandon Jones logged a career-best runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway to give GMS Racing its second consecutive second-place showing. Teammate Spencer Gallagher placed seventh to follow his runner-up effort last week, giving GMS Racing two drivers in the top 10. Jones advanced the No. 33 truck to ninth in NCWTS owner points, while Gallagher moved up to sixth in the NCWTS driver standings.

Bell-ringer: Successful Debut For Christopher Bell At Iowa
Christopher Bell placed fifth at Iowa, become the 27th driver to score a top-five finish in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut – joining the likes of Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne.

Here are the results of some other well-known open-wheel dirt standouts in their NASCAR national series debuts:

Jeff Gordon, 39th, Rockingham Speedway, 10/20/90, NASCAR XFINITY Series

Tony Stewart, 21st, Daytona International Speedway, 2/17/96, NASCAR XFINITY Series

Kasey Kahne, 31st, Rockingham Speedway, 2/23/02, NASCAR XFINITY Series

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 23rd, Nashville Superspeedway, 4/11/09, NASCAR XFINITY Series

Kyle Larson, 10th, Kentucky Speedway, 6/28/12, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Bell will continue to run Late Model races for Kyle Busch Motorsports, but no further Truck dates have been announced at this time.

Points Race Heats Up
Matt Crafton has his hands full holding off two young up-and-coming drivers for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

Crafton still leads in points, but his fourth-place finish at Iowa Speedway was not good enough to increase his advantage over 19-year-olds Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones in the driver standings. Jones won the race and Reddick placed third to shrink their points deficits. Crafton leads second-place Reddick by 12 points and third-place Jones by 26 points. Currently fourth-sixth are Johnny Sauter (-43), John Wes Townley (-76) and Spencer Gallagher (-82).

Crafton is the two-time reigning NCWTS champion. Last year, he became the first driver to successfully defend his NCWTS title.

Break In The Action For The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is off for two weekends until it resumes competition in the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway (Thurs., July 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

There have been 106 lead changes so far this season – the most through nine races in NCWTS history.

The Truck Series’ 198 green flag passes for the lead this season are also a record through nine races.

Following Kentucky, the NCWTS travels to Eldora Speedway for the 1-800-CAR-CASH Mud Summer Classic on July 22 and then heads to Pocono Raceway on August 1.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Etc.
Mike Skinner, the 1995 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, will travel across the Atlantic to West Sussex, England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed this coming weekend. As the only team with entries from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Skinner and good friend/business partner Andrew Franzone will have one truck with the historic No. 5 Toyota Tundra paint scheme that Skinner raced from 2004 until 2008. Additionally, Skinner will use a second truck with branding from Cessna, Beechcraft, Textron Aviation and Remington, while attempting to improve the record time he set on the course in 2014.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Next Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350
The Place: Sonoma Raceway
The Date: Sunday, June 28
The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps)

Next Race: Subway Firecracker 250
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, July 4
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: NBC Sports Network, 6:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: UNOH 225
The Place: Kentucky Speedway
The Date: Thursday, July 9
The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX Sports 1, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)

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