Podium Preview: Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

Pole sitter Kyle Larson wants a win in today's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma! (Photo Credit: Boer83)

Pole sitter Kyle Larson wants a win in today’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma! (Photo Credit: Boer83)

No matter if it’s Sonoma or Sears Point, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 may be a true challenge for drivers today.  After 20 years of racing on the 1.99-mile NASCAR-only layout, it’s back to the Carousel, full course, 2.52-mile layout.  With 12 distinct corners, it’ll be a genuine test for drivers, cars, and pit crews under the California sunshine.

Surely, Sonoma Raceway kicks off its 50th anniversary in grand fashion with Round 16 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.  With this in mind, this race often sees some of NASCAR’s craftiest and shrewdest racers prevail.  However, with the beloved Carousel corner back in the mix, it may also mean perfection for today’s 90-lap event.

Will the Golden State translate into a winning day for a team that’s not been to Victory Circle since 2017?  Might we see attrition in the form of equipment issues or on-track snafus?  To say the least, this is perhaps the most anticipated race at Sonoma since 1997.

While we fire away our dial-up modems, our columnists Ashley HobbsChristina Bowman, Cody ShoppeKathleen CassidyKatie Copple, Jose Acero JrKobe LambethMatt Sisoler, and yours truly consider the return of the full-course layout for Sonoma and potential standalone tracks for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series!

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Question 1
Might we see more Sonoma magic today? (Photo Credit: Boer83)

Might we see more Sonoma magic today? (Photo Credit: Boer83)

Sonoma Raceway reintroduces “The Carousel,” a beloved and winding corner that has been absent since the 1997 race.  Based on past races, what can we expect in this action spot of the track?

Bowman :  I think it is a bit hard to say what we can expect being that it’s been so long since this part of the track has been utilized. Cars and drivers are completely different now than in the 90’s. One can hope that it will be as excited as it was back in those days and maybe incite a little tenacity from the drivers. We will see come the weekend though.

Hobbs :  So much has changed in NASCAR since the glorious year that was 1997. It will certainly be entertaining when the cars get on track to see what these new turns can produce. I would like to think so more passing opportunities are going to come.

Shoppe :  You can’t really base any expectations for the carousel from past Nascar races like many have said, because of the many years since it was used. However, The NTT IndyCar series has raced on this part of the course from 2005 to just last year!

In these races, while being an entirely different kind of car, most of the passing took place in the now hairpin, or turn 7 coming off of the drag-strip back straight. I think this will provide some great action at this turn Sunday as well as some added difficulty for teams to set up for this layout new to them.

Question 2
Might we see more races at MoSport? (Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

Might we see more races at MoSport? (Photo Credit: Kathleen Cassidy/TPF)

The NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series established their own identities with standalone races at tracks not visited by the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  Which tracks would you like to see either return to these series or make their debut in order to distinguish these divisions?

Acero :  Oh man, I don’t want to sound biased, but the action at Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Ciudad de México was second to none. The place was always packed with race fans cheering their drivers on! Remember when Montoya and Pruett got involved in an on-track incident that favored JPM. Let’s get NASCAR back outside the mainland and go either north or south of the border (hoping it goes south).

Cassidy :  The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series already makes a stop at MOSPORT in Canada, however a doubleheader weekend here would be amazing! It shows that there is a fanbase in Canada based on ticket shipping from tracks like MIS – Let’s get some races above the border!

Copple :  I would love to see a track added that’s in a different location than Cup completely! Maybe a track in Canada or even Mexico. Fans just aren’t American! If NASCAR wants to expand the fan base, they need to expand beyond our borders. Canada might be the logical choice, but Mexico shouldn’t be overlooked.

Lambeth :  I truly miss the NASCAR Xfinity Series races outside of the United States. Mexico City and Montreal were two of my favorite road courses on the calendar. It was incredibly disappointing when they disappeared from the schedule.

Both are high quality facilities with plenty of opportunities for overtaking. Mexico City and Montreal currently host a pair of Formula 1 races. I think it is time for them to return to the Xfinity schedule.

As for the Truck Series, I would love to see them run at some new short tracks and a road course race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

Sisoler :  Personally, I think it would be a great idea to, if NASCAR wanted to try and grow its brand, running a triple header up at Montreal with the Pinty’s Series cars, or maybe just a doubleheader at Mexico City.

Tiongson :  This may show my NASCAR age, if you will.  However, I would love to see the return of tracks like South Boston, Nashville, and other regional short tracks.  If you bring series like the XFINITY Series and Gander World Truck Series to these types of tracks, it will help bring a sense of unique identity to both and thus bring out more fans who’ve longed for a NASCAR race closer to their location.  As a kid, I loved when I saw either series go to places that weren’t on the Cup schedule.

That’s two fast laps around Sonoma and we landed on the pole!  Before we go for a winning effort, let’s rewind back to 13 days in the past when yours truly and our TPF North team persevered through Round 15 at Michigan!
Hometown girl Christina Bowman had a winning evening at Michigan.

Hometown girl Christina Bowman had a winning evening at Michigan.

Meanwhile, the machine still reigns supreme.

Meanwhile, the machine still reigns supreme.

As we get to the final laps of today’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, let’s remember how statistician Ashley Hobbs is busily “Crunching the Numbers: Sonoma Style!”
These teams live in cities, or at least in Sonoma for this weekend.

These teams live in cities, or at least in Sonoma for this weekend.

Since 2004, the race winner's average starting spot is 9.9 while the average number of laps led is 45.7.

Since 2004, the race winner’s average starting spot is 9.9 while the average number of laps led is 45.7.

Might it be Johnson's time to shine at Sonoma?

Might it be Johnson’s time to shine at Sonoma?

Here's the race trends at Sonoma since 2011.

Here’s the race trends at Sonoma since 2011.

And your race trends since 2014.

And your race trends since 2014.

The machine sees a winning day for Kurt Busch.

The machine sees a winning day for Kurt Busch.

Last but not least, it’s winning time here for this weekend’s edition of Podium Preview!  Here’s our picks for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Smile, you may be our Sonoma winner!

Smile, you may be our Sonoma winner!

Acero :  Kurt Busch finally gets the checkers for CGR!!!

Lambeth :  I will never forget his jaw dropping drive in an unsponsored car for James Finch in 2012. Kurt Busch will be sipping some fine wine in victory lane at Sonoma.

Tiongson :  Kurt Busch seems excited for the return of “The Carousel” and if there’s ever a time for the 2011 Sonoma winner to score his first victory of 2019, it’s this Sunday!

TPF Stats :  The machine is going with Kurt Busch.

Bowman :  Clint Bowyer is all rested up from the week off and looking to take over Sonoma.

Hobbs :  One of the best road course racers is looking for another victory at Sonoma Raceway, and that is Clint Bowyer.

Copple :  Clint Bowyer.

Sisoler :  He has had some great drives on this track before, so I think that all of Kansas is gonna have a reason to celebrate Sunday, as Clint Bowyer is gonna bring the field home to the checkered flag!

Cassidy :  Ryan Newman.

Shoppe :  Kyle Larson.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.  Lastly, thanks for everything, Darrell Waltrip!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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