The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels back to the west coast for the first road course race of the year. The racing at Sonoma is always exciting but this season it could be even better. To celebrate 50 years of racing at the course, Sonoma will add “The Carousel” to the already tricky track. This will make the road course 2.52-miles in length and have 12 turns. The Toyota / Save Mart 350 can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.
The MENCS will have two practices Friday. The first is at 3 p.m. ET (FS1) and final practice is at 5:30 p.m. ET (FS1). Qualifying will be Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.
For the third race in a row we will get to see two practices on Friday before our lineups lock early Saturday morning. Be sure to check the website Friday night to see my updated picks for the Driver Group Game.
The cars will be back to the 750 HP engines and the aero ducts will be removed. I expect the racing will be the same as in 2017 and 2018 at Sonoma since the cars will have a similar aero package to what we had in the past.
Kyle Larson won the pole at Sonoma last year. He has won the pole in Northern California for the last two races. And once again he could not hold the lead. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 2nd, led 62 and went to Victory Lane. It was the second straight year Truex dominated this race. Kevin Harvick (led 35 laps and finished 2nd), Clint Bowyer (finished 3rd) and Chase Elliott (finished 4th) ran well in the race.
Race Rewind at Sonoma: Save Mart 350 (2018)
Here are my picks for Sonoma…
Driver Group Game A Picks
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have been two of the best drivers at Sonoma but I am running low with allocations with both drivers. I will save them for the intermediate tracks and try to find two drivers from Group A who can score well Sunday. * If you want to gamble and go for max points this week, select Kyle Larson for one of your Group A spots. He won the last two poles at Sonoma and he has NEVER qualified outside the top five. He should score some bonus points for your team.
Martin Truex Jr. (7): Truex has been awesome in Sonoma and he should be even better now that he is a part of Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex won the race last year in wine country and he had the car to beat in 2017 but he had engine failure. Truex has two wins at this track and he will be a serious threat to win his third Sunday. I have seven allocations left with Truex so I have no problem using one of them on the road course.
Chase Elliott (8): Elliott is quickly becoming one of the best road course drivers in the sport. Last year he won at Watkins Glen, finished 6th on the Charlotte Roval and 4th at Sonoma. He has finished his last two races in Northern California in the top eight. Elliott has finished five of the last six races this season in the top five. I think he will make it six of the last seven after the race Sunday.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Kevin Harvick 2) Martin Truex Jr. 3) Chase Elliott 4) Kyle Busch 5) Brad Keselowski 6) Joey Logano 7) Kyle Larson
Driver Group Game B Picks
My strategy at Sonoma will be to “try” and save allocations with my top drivers in Group B. I do not want to completely throw away my lineup by fading the best drivers so I will pick two studs who I know will run well Sunday and two value picks that could squeeze out a top 10 finish. I am hoping to use the value picks in the race if the qualifying well Saturday.
Clint Bowyer (3): My allocations with Bowyer are running low but this is not the race to leave him off my team. Bowyer is the most consistent driver in the MENCS on the road courses. He has finished four of his last five road course races in the top five. Bowyer has also finished 3rd, 2nd, 40th (transmission problems) and 3rd at Sonoma since 2014. He is almost a lock for a top-three finish if his engine makes it for 110 laps. He is the best pick in Group B this week.
Kurt Busch (5): Busch will have some momentum heading into the race at Sonoma after his 2nd-place finish at Michigan. He really does not need it though. Busch has been a lock for a top-10 finish on the road courses since 2012. His average finishing position in the last 13 road course races is 8th place. That is very consistent. Busch has not finished outside the top 10 at Sonoma since 2014 and he has not finished outside the top 12 at the track in over a decade. I have no problem using another allocation with Busch Sunday.
Alex Bowman (8): Bowman will be one of my value picks this week. The No. 88 team lost their sponsor last week but they still have a lot of momentum. Bowman has finished 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 7th, 15th and 10th in his last six races. Last year he finished 9th at Sonoma, 4th at the Charlotte Roval and 14th at Watkins Glen. Bowman is starting to figure out how to run the road courses. I will take a shot with one of the hottest teams in NASCAR.
Daniel Suarez (7): Suarez will be my second value pick. Stewart-Haas Racing has dominated the races at Sonoma for the last three seasons. I want two of their drivers in Group B. I was going to use Aric Almirola but I only have four allocations left with the No. 10 car. I have seven with Suarez so he gets the spot. This pick is more of a gut feeling than anything else. Kevin Harvick likes to work with his teammates more than Kyle Busch does. I think Harvick will work with Suarez to teach him how to get around this tricky road course Sunday.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Clint Bowyer 2) Kurt Busch 3) Denny Hamlin 4) Aric Almirola 5) Alex Bowman 6) Daniel Suarez 7) Jimmie Johnson 8) Ryan Blaney 9) Paul Menard 10) Austin Dillon
Driver Group Game C Picks
Chris Buescher (4): I hate to use another allocation with Buescher at a road course but he is simply too good to ignore this week. Buescher said last year that he worked with his teammate (AJ Allmindinger) to learn how to get around the road courses. It helped, especially at Sonoma. Last year Buescher quailified 25th and finished 12th. He also scored Stage points in both Stages. Buescher is running a lot better than he was in 2018. He is my sleeper pick to finish in the top 10 Sunday.
Michael McDowell (8): The second best choice in Group B is Daniel Hemric but I only have two allocations left with the No. 8 car. McDowell is not far behind though. McDowell grew up racing the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Cars on road courses. That experience has translated into success on the road courses in the MENCS. McDowell has finished five of his last six road course races in the top 18. I will gladly take a top-18 finish from a driver I do not plan to use many allocations with this season.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Chris Buescher 2) Daniel Hemric 3) Michael McDowell 4) Matt DiBenedetto 5) David Ragan
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Martin Truex Jr. (7), Chase Elliott (8)
Group B: Clint Bowyer (3), Kurt Busch (5), Alex Bowman (8), Daniel Suarez (7)
Group C: Chris Buescher (4), Michael McDowell (8)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game Saturday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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