This weekend marks the 31stconsecutive year NASCAR has competed at Sonoma Raceway. It is also the track’s 50 the anniversary! Also, this marks Darrell Waltrip’s final broadcast and will retire from the booth. He is a class act, a larger than life character and a phenomenal race driver. Darrell, you will be missed!!
The main and exciting fact is that Sonoma has returned to the original twelve turn course. This course incorporates the famous “Carousel”. This feature of the storied track drops from turn four to turns 5 and 6. The Carousel has a 200-degree radius, then transitions through turn seven to the longest straightway on the two- and half-mile track.
The Carousel has been a famous spot on the track known for passes that would eventually lead to winning the race. Probably the most famous pass was Dale Earnhardt Sr. passed Mark Martin for the win in 1995. The fans went wild. Being the 50thanniversary season, Ricky Rudd won the first NASCAR Cup Series race here in 1989. Out of the 38 drivers here this weekend, not one of them has raced the Carousel. Back in the day the best road course drivers were Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon. Today names like Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and William Byron just to mention a few.
Friday was qualifying day here at Sonoma. Kyle Larsen turned in the fastest lap 1.34.784 or just under 95 seconds. This was Larsen’s 3 consecutive pole here at Sonoma. This ties Ricky Rudd’s record of 3 straight poles. As for turning the pole into a win at Sonoma, it usually doesn’t happen. The pole sitter at this track has only won 5 times out of the 30 races held here.
The Carousel didn’t cause the drivers to crash or spin, but it did slow them down a little until they went through it a few times. The drivers were cautious but these drivers are the best at what they do so it didn’t take long to understand the layout and begin to master it.
As the race began William Byron in the Hendricks 24 car took a commanding lead at the start of the race. Byron lead the entire first stage wire to wire. Byron pitted at the end of the stage but lost track position to start the 2ndstage. Byron couldn’t recover and finished a disappointing 19th. As the race, progressed Truex Jr. took the lead and was dominating the event. Truex Jr. won the event last year and was trying to do it again. Toward the end of the race it started to get interesting. Kyle Busch had fresher tires than Truex Jr. Busch was behind Truex Jr. about 8 seconds but got to within little over 1 second over the last 24 laps. Truex Jr. said car felt terrible during the last 24 laps and said he could barely handle the car during the last 10 laps.
Truex Jr. eventually took the win for his second consecutive win at Sonoma. Busch finished a disappointing 2nd. The race had no cautions, except for the Stage breaks. Ryan Blaney was 3rd, Matt DiBenedetto 4th, Denny Hamlin rounded out the 5thspot. A great weekend full of racing, the weather was warm and the sky was a beautiful blue.
HMG Guest Writer and Photographer – Greg Caillupo