Friday July 19th, 2024 11:16AM

Former Cup champs head to Sonoma looking for first win of 2024

By Holly Cain NASCAR Wire Service

This Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway marks the second road course event of the year. Several of NASCAR’s best at that brand of racing arrive in Northern California’s scenic wine country, still looking for their first victory of the 2024 season.

You can hear the action live on Sunday WDUN AM 550 and FM 102.9. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. 

Last week, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric scored a huge win at World Wide Technology Raceway. He was driving to victory when his teammate, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, ran out of gas with a lap remaining. Blaney surrendered the race lead, the trophy, and a Playoff position to Cindric.

Two of Penske’s champion drivers, Blaney and two-time series champ Joey Logano, are among a legitimate A-List still racing for their first trophies, 15 races into the 2024 season. Both have road course wins on their resume – Logano at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Blaney on the Charlotte ROVAL – so Sonoma presents a legitimate opportunity.

The defending Sonoma race winner, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, three of the best road course drivers in the field, are also among those still competing for their first victory of the season. Add second-year JGR driver Ty Gibbs – who earned four road course wins in the Xfinity Series – to that list, and it will set up a rather intense Sunday afternoon in wine country.

Among that group of favorites, Truex certainly holds the most Sonoma cred. Not only is he the defending winner, but he’s also earned three trophies in the last five years and has four overall. In 2018-19, he became the first driver since NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon (1998-2000) to win consecutive races at the 1.99-mile, 12-turn course.

“It’s a lot different with the repave, but I’m hoping it’s our normal deal out there, and we have a chance to win again,” Said Truex, who sits fourth in points heading to Sonoma. “I think this would be the first time I would have five wins at a track if we can get it done.

“This will be a new challenge; we’ve been able to win on the normal course we’ve used, been able to win on the carousel configuration, and how we have a new challenge with the repaved surface as well.”

There are 15 drivers with at least one NASCAR Cup Series road-course victory on the grid Sunday – and five of them, who compete full-time in the series, are still looking for their first win of the season.

In 2024, the NASCAR Cup Series races at only four traditional road courses – plus the Chicago Street Race – so for those who particularly excel turning right and left, Sonoma presents a huge opportunity to secure one of the 16 Playoff positions.

Last year, there were six different winners in the six road course events. Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron – who collected his first road course trophy at Watkins Glen, N.Y. last summer, won this season’s first road course race at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas in March.

Heading into Sonoma, only nine drivers have secured a Playoff spot with a win, leaving seven positions to be determined in these final 11 regular season events.

There will be a 50-minute NASCAR Cup Series practice session on Friday afternoon at 5:05 p.m. ET (televised on FS1 at 8:30 p.m. ET), with two rounds of Busch Light Pole Qualifying (FS2) scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Qualifying has been a strong indicator of race performance. Only twice in 34 Sonoma races has the winner started outside the top-15. Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson has won four pole positions and would tie Hendrick executive and former driver Jeff Gordon for most all-time should he win a fifth this weekend.

Van Gisbergen leads an eager contingent of Xfinity road racers to Sonoma

The NASCAR Xfinity Series continues the “course” with its second consecutive road course race in as many weeks with Saturday’s Zip Buy Now, Pay Later 250 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Former NASCAR Cup Series full-timer Aric Almirola led 17 of the 79 laps, claiming his first career road course win in Sonoma’s maiden NASCAR Xfinity Series race last year. He won’t be back to defend his trophy, but this weekend’s entry list includes a list of motivated series regulars and some big-name road course ringers.

Among those full-time competitors, last week’s Portland winner, Shane van Gisbergen, tops the list of favorites. The driver of the No. 97 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet won in his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Chicago Street Race last year and earned his first-ever NASCAR Xfinity Series trophy last Saturday.

Of course, his Kaulig teammate A.J. Allmendinger – the sport’s current road course ace – will be up to challenge. Allmendinger has 17 career Xfinity wins, and 11 of them were on road courses – but he has never claimed a victory sip of wine at Sonoma.

JR Motorsports boasts a lineup of road course talent from three-time road course winner Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 Chevrolet to three-time road course winner Sam Mayer in the No. 1 Chevrolet.

Current championship leader, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer is especially good on road courses too with a pair of road course wins. Overall, there are eight former Xfinity Series road course winners racing this weekend.

“We were really strong last weekend in Portland, and I feel extremely confident that we will be just as quick in Sonoma,” said Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, who led the most laps and won both stages at Portland

“We were in position for a solid top-five here last year before we had some power steering issues, and I know that we will be just as capable of running even better when we get to the track on Friday. This group is ready to go, and hopefully, we can put on a great show for everyone.”

That “show” will certainly feature a top-notch list of drivers this weekend, with several part-timers and a “long-timer” hoping to make the field.

One of those is a NASCAR all-time fan favorite, Californian Boris Said, who will drive the No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. A champion road course competitor in the Trans Am and IMSA ranks, Said won the 2010 Montreal road course NASCAR Xfinity Series race. This will be his first Xfinity Series start at Sonoma, but he has five top-10 finishes at the track in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Open-wheel and sports car Ed Jones is on the entry list in addition to 2022 series champion Gibbs and Nemechek, who are pulling double duty.

A 50-minute practice is slated for Friday at 4:05 p.m. ET (televised on FS1 at 5 p.m.), with Saturday qualifying at 3:30 p.m. ET (FS2) followed by the race’s green flag at 8 p.m. ET.

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