Logano on top heading into Sonoma with return of 'The Carousel'

YouTube download / NASCAR video / Here's a recap of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway won by Martin Truex Jr.
Photo credit / Sean Gardner/Getty Images​ / Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 21, 2019 in Sonoma, California.​
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Team Penske’s Joey Logano has retaken the championship points lead with his win at Michigan and would love to have that good mojo translate into a first career victory at Sonoma (Calif) Raceway - with a longer course on Sunday.  

Logano holds a nine-point edge over two-time Sonoma winner Kyle Busch in the standings and would love nothing more than to accentuate his title defense with his first Sonoma Raceway win.

The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang has one pole, two top-fives and four top-10 finishes in 10 starts on the famed road course. His best showing is third in 2016 and both of his top-five finishes have come in the last four-race span.

Historically speaking, Sonoma has been challenging for points leader Logano. His 18 laps led (over three races) at the facility is his third-lowest laps led mark of any track the Monster Energy Series currently visits. The only other tracks Logano’s led fewer laps at are the other road courses, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International (nine laps led) and the Charlotte ROVAL (zero laps led).

But keep in mind, he has a win at The Glen (2015). Certainly, momentum is on Logano’s side this weekend, regardless of past performzance at Sonoma.

NASCAR points leaders / Headline Surfer InfographicHistorically speaking, Sonoma has been challenging for points leader Joey Logano. His 18 laps led (over three races) at the facility is his third-lowest laps led mark of any track the Monster Energy Series currently visits. The only other tracks Logano’s led fewer laps at are the other road courses, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International (nine laps led) and the Charlotte ROVAL (zero laps led).

But keep in mind, he has a win at The Glen (2015). Certainly, momentum is on Logano’s side this weekend, regardless of past performance at Sonoma.

Logano has seven finishes of seventh place or better in the last eight series races this season – four of those are top-three efforts. In addition to his win at Michigan, Logano finished runner-up at both Richmond and Charlotte during that span.

Only his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski (775) and Kyle Busch (763) have led more laps this season than Logano (549).

Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. are the only two-time winners at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. 

Busch has four top-five and six top-10 finishes in 14 starts at the track. Furthermore, he’s finished seventh or better in the last four races including his victory in 2015.

That win was particularly important to Busch as it was the first victory for him after he returned from a serious injury that sidelined him for the season’s first 11 races. The Sonoma win ensured him a position in the championship Playoffs and Busch went on to earn four more race wins and eventually his first series title.

The Sonoma Raceway victory – on such a physically demanding venue – was a particular bright spot for Busch in that championship run.

YouTube download / NASCAR video / Kyle Busch misses a turn in The Carousel: spins in final practice Friday leading up to Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Busch acknowledges that perhaps his background racing on road courses (and Sonoma, in particular as a youth) made him more open to the discipline. “It’s different, for sure,’’ Busch said. “There are a lot of guys out there who have the road racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly, and you just go on to the next one."

Busch continued, "We don’t have a lot of testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd."

Busch added, “I think the biggest thing you do for Sonoma is watch some film, look at things from the past few years that have worked and some things that haven’t, and look at what has made you better there. You always have to be mindful of what has made you good there and what you can improve on."

Statistically speaking, Kurt Busch is one to watch

Crunch the numbers at Sonoma Raceway and veteran Kurt Busch rises to the top in four of the six most important statistical loop categories.

Using Loop Data since 2005, Busch leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in Driving Rating (107.1), Average Running Position (9.863), Laps in the Top-15 (78.9 percent) and Laps Led (167) at Sonoma Raceway. 

In the other two categories (Quality Passes) and (Fastest Laps Run) – Busch is ranked second and third best, respectively. He has 351 Quality Passes compared to Jimmie Johnson’s 419. And Busch has run 89 Fastest Laps, compared to leader Martin Truex Jr.’s 100.

In fact, Busch’s 198 laps led all-time is most among active drivers and second all-time only to NASCAR Hall of Famer and five-time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon. And Busch’s average running position of 9.863 is especially impressive considering the second-best mark is Johnson’s 11.343.

Busch is tied with Clint Bowyer for most top-10s (10) among active drivers at Sonoma and his seven top-five finishes is second only to Bowyer’s mark of eight. And not only are Busch’s finishes impressive, he swept the 2006 road course season scoring pole positions at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen, N.Y. 

Coming to California, Busch is still looking for his first win in his first season driving the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

Busch has four top fives and nine top 10s in the season’s opening 15 races and is ranked eighth in the series driver standings, six points behind seventh place Denny Hamlin and 14 points behind sixth place Martin Truex Jr. – drivers that have five wins on the year between them. Busch is the highest-ranked driver without a victory or any stage points in 2019.

Will this be the week for Kevin Harvick?

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick must surely be open to any home-state love he can muster this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. The Bakersfield, California, native is still looking for his first win of the 2019 season and the Sonoma 2.52-mile course has generally been a good venue for the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Harvick has nine top-10 finishes in 18 starts on the track, including five of the last six races there. Harvick won at Sonoma in 2017 and has finished sixth or better in the last four consecutive races there. He was runner-up last year to Truex and led 35 laps in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. In fact, he’s led 62 of his 95 career laps out front in just the last three races.

A victory would not only make him one of only three drivers to earn multiple trophies at Sonoma but would top off a season that’s been consistently good, if trophy-less.

Harvick has 10 top-10 finishes through the opening 15 races and is ranked fourth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship standings – ahead of race winners Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. 

Even without a victory yet, Harvick is only two points behind three-time race winner Brad Keselowski, who is third in the standings.

Sonoma is one of Clint Bowyer’s best tracks

Stewart-Haas Racing driver Clint Bowyer shows up at Sonoma Raceway this week one of only six drivers with a previous win on the road course and someone whose track record there makes him an absolute race day favorite.

The popular driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang boasts the best average finish in the field (10.077) – the third best mark all-time behind only Jeff Gordon (8.304) and the late Dale Earnhardt (8.583) – a pair of Hall of Famers. 

Bowyer scored his victory in 2012 and has a series-best eight top-five finishes at Sonoma. He and Kurt Busch are tied for most top-10 finishes (10). And a victory Sunday would be a well-needed and well-timed boost for the SHR driver’s season.

Bowyer has three top-10 finishes and three finishes of 24th or worse in the last six races of the season; including a disappointing 35th-place finish at Michigan in the series’ last race before a Father’s Day off-weekend.

Still, Bowyer is well inside the top-16 championship field – ranked 12th, 22-points behind his Stewart-Haas teammate Aric Almirola. A runner-up showing at Texas and third at Richmond highlight his five top-five finishes.

Bowyer has finished among the top-three in three of the last four Sonoma races – including a third-place finish in 2015, runner-up in 2017 and third place last year. The only foul mark in that run was a 40th-place finish in 2016 when an electrical problem sidelined him only five laps into the race.

“The summer stretch is everything and, looking back at our season last year, we’ve got to get better at it,’’ Bowyer said. “Everybody asks, ‘How are you going to improve from last year?’ And I say it’s that late-summer stretch. We started off great last year and then tapered off in the summer. We have to avoid that this year. You have to get on a roll, especially leading off into the Playoffs.”

The Carousel returns

The Sonoma Raceway course will have a distinct new - longer - look this weekend, at least for recent NASCAR fans.

For the first time in 22 years, the course will again use the “The Carousel” turn – a tight, 200-degree plus turn that leads to the track’s long straightaway and hairpin turn.

Since 1998, NASCAR has bypassed “The Carousel” and used a 1.99-mile course. The addition of the turn makes the course layout 2.52-miles long.  

Return of The Carousel at Sonoma Raceway / Headline Surfer InfographicThe Sonoma Raceway course will have a distinct new - longer - look this weekend, at least for recent NASCAR fans.

For the first time in 22 years, the course will again use the “The Carousel” turn – a tight, 200-degree plus turn that leads to the track’s long straightaway and hairpin turn.

Since 1998, NASCAR has bypassed “The Carousel” and used a 1.99-mile course. The addition of the turn makes the course layout 2.52-miles long.  

Defending race winner Martin Truex Jr. anticipates “The Carousel” has the potential to significantly impact the race.

“It’s going to be a game charger,’’ Truex said.

“We’ll have a fast, left-hand turn that we’ve never had there before. In the past, you focused on turning right and kind of threw the left-hand turns away. I don’t think any current driver has ran on this course, so it’s kind of starting from scratch for everyone." 

Truex added, “I have it embedded in my mind the track we have ran and what we’ve been doing for as long as I’ve raced there. On the old layout, I feel like I could go there and get 99 percent out of my car on Lap 1. Now you throw in the different turns and I might just get lost and fly on by the turn into the carousel. It’s going to be fun to try to figure it out."

Toyota/Save Mart 350
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, June 23;
WATCH: FS1;
TRACK: Sonoma (Calif) Raceway.
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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.