The Monster Energy Series returns from a week off and heads to Sonoma Raceway in the heart of California’s scenic wine country. The season’s first road course test of left-and-right may be just what some top drivers in the series need to get their first win of 2019. Four former Sonoma winners…Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson have yet to punch their ticket to the playoffs in 2019 and all four are among the top road course drivers in Nascar. They all rank in the top 16 in the standings, but there’s no substitute for being locked into the playoffs.
Expect a lot of tilting back and forth on race day this week. Stage points tend to be less important to those seeking a win in these road races. Both of the last two winners (Harvick and Truex) chose to pit just before the end of stages in their respective recent wins here. On the flip side of that, the stage winners in those races haven’t finished well, falling deep in the standings by race’s end. The pole position has produced the most winners with five, though the last time the pole-sitter won was in 2004. For those of you wagering on a winner, 53% of Sonoma winners have come from a top five starting position. Hendrick Motorsports leads all organizations with 6 victories, though five of those were by now retired Jeff Gordon.
It’s been more than 20 years since Sonoma did away with the carousel section, but this year they’re bringing it back to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This adds more than a quarter mile in extra length to a single lap. The return of the carousel will also most likely further the gap between the better road course drivers within the series and the rest of the field. Harvick and JJ are the only active drivers to have logged laps using the carousel, and both did so in a lesser Nascar series a very long time ago. Sonoma will feature the 2019 rules package for road courses, and that means no aero ducts and a tapered-spacer engine expected to reach 750 horsepower.
Due to the nature of road courses and this being a specialized track, this is a week in which I’ll be highlighting a few drivers that seldom make my write-ups. Of note when putting lines together, many times drivers who are on the cusp of making the playoffs (top 16 in points), but have no realistic shot at winning this race will instead race for stage points to help them in the playoff standings. At the end of this week’s write-up, I’ll include a short list of drivers that have historically raced for stage points here, and are solid bets to do so again this year. DFS does not reward points for stage points and therefore any driver who takes this approach, could be a risky play if they opt to sacrifice finishing position for stage points.
Past winners entered this week are Truex and Kyle Busch with 2 each, while Harvick, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, and Johnson have one win each here at Sonoma. As always, my articles are directed at DK gpp formats, but I will be around in chat to discuss FD options and cash plays for those players interested. Let’s get to it.
Clint Bowyer (9300)
Bowyer will be high on my radar at Sonoma. He’s a past winner here who’s one of the best road course racers in Nascar. Last year on road courses his 5.7 average finish was tied for the 2nd best. In 2017 his average finish was 3.5. At Sonoma, Bowyer is among the strongest drivers in the series. Over the last 8 races he has 6 top fives and 7 top tens. Last year, Bowyer had a great car and when the checkered flag waved he finished 3rd, and had a 6th place average running position. In 2017, he had a great car and finished runner-up. In the five Sonoma races prior to 2016, he finished in the top ten every race, had a 4.6 average finish and an 8.4 average running position. On Sunday, look for Bowyer to compete for a top five and a possible win. At Sonoma, Clint Bowyer leads all active drivers with eight top 5 finishes, including a win in 2012. Bowyer was fast throughout both practice sessions and posted the best 10 lap average in happy hour. Bowyer will roll off 14th and is a fantastic play this week.
Martin Truex Jr. (10800)
Truex is the defending champion at Sonoma and a solid bet to reach victory lane on Sunday. Last year he not only won at Sonoma, he finished 2nd at Watkins Glen, and was positioned to win the Charlotte Roval had JJ not wrecked him on the final turn of the final lap. At Sonoma, Truex is a two-time winner. In 2017, he ran up front all day before engine troubles ended his day early. In 2016 he finished 5th. Truex had great single lap speed in practice, though his long run speed was average. He rolls off 8th which isn’t ideal, but the dominator points should be there.
Paul Menard (7200)
Menard has been a solid performer on road courses, and is generally underrated on this track type. In 5 of the last 6 races at Sonoma, he’s finished in the top 16. Last year, Menard had his worst recent race here and when the checkered flag waved he found himself in 26th though it’s notable he had a 19th place average running position. It wasn’t a typical road course finish for him. In the five races prior to that he had an 11.8 average finish, and a 16.6 average running position. In 2017 he finished 11th, earned the 10th best driver rating and had a 14th place average running position. In 2016 he had a 15th place average running position and finished 16th. In 2015 he finished 13th. In 2014 he had his best performance here, and crossed the line in 5th. Menard wasn’t among the leaders in practice speed, but he was solidly in the top half of the field. I have him finishing near the mid-teens this week. That’s solid value at his salary, and depending on starting position, he’ll most likely find his way into several of my lines this week. On a week where I’m hesitant to use punts, he provides a measure of salary relief as well. He qualified 24th and there’s solid room there for positional points for this above average road course racer.
Erik Jones (8100)
Jones should be on everyone’s radar at Sonoma. He’s an above average road course racer, and in 3 of the last 4 races he’s finished in the top ten. At Sonoma, Jones has two starts and last year when the checkered flag waved he finished 7th. Additionally, he earned the 11th best driver rating and had a 14th place average running position. Jones ranked in the top ten on this track type last year. He slipped in qualifying and will start 32nd giving us fantastic potential for positional points this week.
Kevin Harvick (11200)
Harvick is arguably the best road course racer in Nascar. He’s a serious threat to end up in victory lane any time the series heads to this track type. Over the last four races here he has the best driver rating, the best average finish at 3.3, the best average running position at 7.8, and he’s finished in the top 6 every race. Last year at Sonoma, Harvick finished 2nd, had a 4th place average running position and led 35 laps. In 2017, Harvick raced into victory lane, leading 24 laps. In 2016 he finished 6th. In 2015 he finished 4th and earned the 4th best driver rating. Last year at the combined road course races, Harvick had a 7.0 average finish and was one of three drivers who finished in the top ten every race. Harvick looked solid in practice but never made it to the top of the practice speed charts. He’s one of only two drivers in the series with experience driving the carousel, and despite slipping in qualifying, should be up front by the end of the day. He’s priced up this week which makes rostering him difficult, but don’t let that scare you away. I will be running 12 to 15 lines, and he’ll be in at least 20% of them.
Alex Bowman (7500)
Bowman should be on everyone’s radar at Sonoma. He’s a solid road course racer and last year over the combined races on this track type he had a 9.0 average result and finished in the top 14 every race. Last year at Sonoma, Bowman ran well. He finished 9th, earned the 12th best driver rating and had a 14th place average running position. Bowman ranked in the top ten on this track type last year. Bowman laid down the 2nd best 10 lap average in happy hour. He starts 12th and in a week where we want to avoid punts, he’s a solid play at his salary.
Kyle Busch (10400)
(I debated long and hard about putting JJ in this 7th and final write-up slot, but in the end, you can’t ignore the best driver in Nascar despite his struggles in practice this week.) KB is a two-time winner here who’s been among the best in Nascar in recent events. Over the last four Sonoma races he has a 4.5 average while finishing in the top 7 every race. Last year at Sonoma, Busch finished 5th, and earned the 5th best driver rating. In 2017, he finished 5th and earned the 6th best driver rating. In 2016 he was very strong and had one of the best cars. In the race he earned the 3rd best driver rating, had a 5th place average running position and finished 7th. In 2015 at Sonoma, he managed to reach victory lane, although he didn’t have the best car that day. Rather he had a fantastic late pit stop under yellow, which vaulted him ahead of several drivers that ran ahead of him all day. Busch struggled in happy hour, going off track 3 times. He qualified 7th, which isn’t ideal, but if he can get to the front early, he could pay off with lots of dominator points.
Drivers with a history of racing for stage points at Sonoma are Keselowski, Elliott, Bowman, Suarez, Newman, and Buescher.
Other drivers I like are Kurt Busch, Elliott, Almirola, Newman, Austin Dillon, and Logano.
Salary-savers (sub-7k) this week are McDowell, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, and DiBenedetto though use the latter two with caution.
Dominator potentials this week are Larson, Elliott, Logano, Kyle Busch, and Truex.
Movers this week are Jones, Harvick, Bowyer, and Kurt Busch.
Fades for me this week are Keselowski, Bubba, and Stenhouse.
My pick to win the race this week is Martin Truex Jr., who’s been fast throughout practice, is a previous winner, and one of the best road course racers in all of Nascar.