Trying to figure out who will win a road course race in NASCAR is similar to restrictor-plate racing where it’s more a matter of an educated guess than using actual calculation. As in restrictor-plates, there’s some luck involved and hopefully you’re not taken out by traffic going right and left.
Still, some drivers have a knack for road racing, while others wish it was just a bad dream. Sprint Cup drivers have been returning to wine country in Sonoma County for a quarter century now. Nobody has done more near the Napa Sonoma Marsh at the north end of the San Pablo Bay than local driver Jeff Gordon, who grew up just a dozen miles to the east of Sonoma Raceway in Vallejo, California.
Gordon has won five times at the undulating two-mile race track, but he hasn’t won at Bruton Smith’s place since ‘06. The Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was only able to wrestle one win in 12 Sonoma tries, but he finished in the Top 10 three-quarters of the time. With consistent success, Ricky Rudd was almost poetry in motion with his smooth and precise driving on the road course, while Rusty Wallace was much more aggressive and nabbed two wins and nine top fives.
Starting near or at the front to begin the race will be vital – so, of the current drivers, which lucky seven look like contenders to win this year in wine country? Here are those seven favorites (listed alphabetically).
Marcos Ambrose – The ‘Tasmanian Devil’, hasn’t won yet at Sonoma, but it’s only a matter of time considering he has five Top 10s in six appearances there. Ambrose had the pole in 2012 and has never started the race outside the top eight. That should keep him near or at the front as a contender.
Clint Bowyer – Over the past decade, he has shown to be adept at the Northern California road course with the same percentage of Top 10s as Earnhardt Sr. Bowyer was dominant in a 2012 win with Michael Waltrip Racing, who has won the last two in Sonoma. Expect to see Clint in the top five all day with a shot at the win.
Kurt Busch – He has a pole and also an impressive win at Sonoma (2011), plus he finished third and fourth respectively the past two years with underfunded teams. All the drivers at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are more than capable road course drivers, so it won’t be surprising to see Busch at the front in wine country.
Jeff Gordon – He looks racy this year and that can’t be good news for his competition when it comes to Sonoma. No one can take away the fact that Gordon dominated this course for a decade. No, he hasn’t won in his own backyard for awhile but he did finish second twice over the past three seasons and currently has eight straight Top 10s, which says Jeff will once again battle for the victory in 2014.
Kevin Harvick – Another Californian who has been very racy this year, ‘Happy’ hasn’t been to victory lane at Sonoma, which is 300 miles north from his hometown of Bakersfield. This pick might appear reaching a bit, but Harvick has won or been runner-up this year in five events. As a SHR teammate, he should be expected to contend for the win and three top threes at Sonoma suggest he can.
Jimmie Johnson – No list should ever be without the six-time champ. Johnson is yet another Californian who should be thought highly of especially with the fact he won here four years ago and has five straight Top 10s at the road course. Oh, and he’s won three out of the last four Sprint Cup races this season. Four-out-of-five?
Joey Logano – Like Johnson, Logano is an additional hot driver this year and the youngster has found a home at Penske Racing with two wins this year and six top fives. How about the fact that Joey has led laps in every race this year, plus he led 10 laps last year at Sonoma. It’s not beyond the possibilities that he can do it again in 2014, and who knows, maybe snatch his first road course win.
Source: Racing Reference