The MENCS will compete at Sonoma Raceway this week in the Toyota / Save Mart 350. This will be the first of three road courses for the MENCS. The cars will be back to 750 HP engines and the aero ducts will be removed. The cars may be the same as last year but the track will be different. The drivers will run the Carousel this year and that will make this technical track even trickier. The Toyota / Save Mart 350 can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Goodyear will bring a new tire compound to the track this week. This is a unique tire code that will only be run at Sonoma. Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for the two practices, 1 set for qualifying and 7 sets for the race. Usually fuel is more important at Sonoma than tires so I would not be too worried about teams running out of tires for this race.
5 drivers from either the Cup or Xfinity Series will run the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Saturday. The list includes: Austin Dillon, Ryan Preece, Daniel Hemric from the Cup Series and Cole Custer, Noah Gragson from the Xfinity Series. The extra seat time should help the Cup Series drivers this week.
* I did not get time to see practice and the people I use to get information from the garage did not travel to California. This week I will only be able to provide stats and some information for each driver.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has been the best driver in the series over the past two months when you simply go off of average finishing position. Elliott has finished 5 of the last 6 races in the top 5. He has also been good on the road courses. Elliott has the 2nd-best average finishing position (6.4) and the second-best Driver Rating (110.3) over the last 5 races. Last year he finished 1st, 4th and 6th in the 3 races. He should be a great pick Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson is not the first name that comes to mind when people think of road course racing but he has been pretty consistent at Sonoma. Johnson has a 7.6 average finishing position at Sonoma since 2008 (10 races). That is a long time to average a top 10 finish at a track. Johnson has only finished outside the top 15 at Sonoma once since 2005. He is almost a lock for a top 12 finish Sunday.
Alex Bowman: Bowman started his career really struggling on the road courses but he has figured it out since he joined Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman finished 4th, 14th and 9th in the 3 road course races last year. Bowman has shown a lot of improvement this year so I expect him to be better at Sonoma Sunday than he was in the past. I would expect a top 10 finish from the No. 88 car this week.
William Byron: Road Course racing is tough on rookies and that was the case with Byron last year. He finished 25th at Sonoma, 8th at Watkins Glen and 34th at the Charlotte Roval. The Glenn is the easiest track so it is no surprise he ran well in New York. Byron is a quick learner and his crew chief (Chad Knaus) knows how to set up a car for this track. But this is a driver’s track so I expect Byron to finish between 15th and 20th this week.
Kyle Larson: Larson is a lock to start up front and probably lead some laps. Larson has won the pole for the last 2 races at Sonoma and he has NEVER qualified outside the top 5. Larson can turn fast laps when he is by himself, but he usually struggles in traffic. The trend with Larson is for him to qualify in the top 5 and finish between 12th and 16th.
Kurt Busch: Busch is one of the best drivers in the Cup Series on the road courses. He has not finished outside the top 12 on a road course since 2012 (13 races). His average finishing position in the last 8 races at Sonoma is 5th (that is since 2011!!!). If Busch is going to win a race and secure a spot in the playoffs, it will probably happen Sunday.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been brilliant at Sonoma since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick has finished 2nd, 1st, 6th and 4th at the track since 2014. He is also good at leading laps. He led 24 laps in 2017 and 35 laps last year. Harvick is still looking for his 1st win this season. Stewart-Haas Racing has dominated this track for 3 years so Harvick should have a great chance to win Sunday.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer will have a good chance to win this week. If you take away his throw-away season a HScott Motorspots, Bowyer has a 4th place average finishing position at Sonoma since 2010. That is the best in the Series. Since joining Stewart-Haas Race, Bowyer has finished 2nd and 3rd at Sonoma. He will be a great pick in all fantasy games this week.
Daniel Suarez: How much will the switch from Joe Gibbs Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing help Suarez this week? SHR is the best at this track and the switch helped Aric Almirola so it could have the same impact on Suarez. He finished 15th and 16th in his two Cup Series races a JGR. He should finish near the top 10 again Sunday.
Aric Almirola: After a hot start to the 2019 season, Almirola has not finished inside the top 10 on a non-Superspeedway track since the race at Texas in March. He could get back inside the top 10 this week. Almirola finished 8th and scored Stage points in both Stages at Sonoma last year. He is a risky play that could pay off this week.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been very good on the road courses but Sonoma in his worst of the 3 tracks. Keselowski only has 1 finish inside the top 10 in his 9 races at the track. It occurred in 2017 when Keselowski led 17 laps and finished 3rd, so he does have the skills to run up front. Keselowski is a risky pick this week in salary cap games because of his high price, but he has been one of the best drivers this season. He is a high risk, high reward driver for your fantasy team Sunday.
Joey Logano: Logano has been hit or miss at Sonoma in his career. He finished 12th and 19th in his last 2 races at the track but he finished 3rd and 5th in the 2 races before that. Logano has been one of the best drivers in the series this season so it would not surprise anyone if he race well Sunday.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney won the road course race at the Charlotte Roval last year but do not expect the same results at Sonoma. This track ranks as his 3rd worst track. Blaney has 3 starts at Sonoma and he has finished 34th, 9th and 23rd. He only has 1 finish in the top 10 in the last 7 races this season so he is not exactly on a hot streak. It would probably be a good idea to save Blaney for the oval tracks.
Paul Menard: Menard has not had much success at Sonoma in his career. He has 11 career starts in the MENCS at the track and he has only finished inside the top 10 once. His average starting position at Sonoma is 18.1 and his average finishing position is 18.1. So he probably will not finish inside the top 15 and he probably will not score many place differential points this week.
Kyle Busch: Busch has been the best driver in the Cup Series this season and he has really run well at Sonoma since 2014. Busch has finished 1st, 7th, 5th and 5th in his last 4 races at the track. He has only finished 1 road course race outside the top 7 since 2014. Busch is almost a lock for a top 5 finish Sunday.
Erik Jones: Jones really struggled on the road course in his rookie season (2017) but he showed a lot of improvement last year. Jones finished 7th at Sonoma, 5th at Watkins Glen and was involved in a wreck (He followed everyone else into the tires) at the Charlotte Roval. Jones is on the playoff bubble so he needs a good run Sunday.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is one of the best road course races in the Cup Series and Sonoma is one of his better tracks. Hamlin finished 2nd, 4th and 10th in his last three races in Northern California. Joe Gibbs Racing has been the best team in 2019 so I would expect their cars to be fast Sunday. Hamlin should finish in the top 10 if he can avoid penalties on pit road.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex should be one of the favorites to win Sunday. He has had one of the best cars in the last 3 races at Sonoma. Truex qualified 3rd and finished 5th in 2017. He qualified 3rd and ran most of the race in the top 3 before his engine expired in 2018. Last year he qualified 2nd, led 62 laps and went to Victory Lane. Truex is a great pick for all fantasy teams this week.
Matt DiBenedetto: This is the home track for DiBenedetto so you would think he would be extra motivated to run well. He has not had much success at the track but he has not been in very good cars. His Leavine Family Racing Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing support will be the best car he has ever had on a road course. DiBenedetto finished 17th at Sonoma last year while driving for GO FAS Racing. He should be able to at least match that result Sunday.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric only has 1 race on a road course in the MENCS on his resume so it is no surprise that he is going to run the K&N West Series race Saturday. His best track in the Xfinity Series is Mid-Ohio. He finished 2nd and 3rd in his 2 races at the track so there is a chance he will run well Sunday, but do not expect anything more than a top-15 finish.
Austin Dillon: Dillon is another driver who will be racing in the K&N West Series race Saturday. He needs all the help he can get. Dillon has 11 races on road courses on his MENCS resume and his best finish is 16th at Sonoma in 2018. It would be a good idea to save Dillon for the oval tracks.
Ty Dillon: Dillon has not been good at the road courses in his career. He has competed in 5 road course races in the MENCS and his average finishing position is 25th. Dillon finished 28th and 33rd in his 2 races at Sonoma. I would be shocked if he finished inside the top 20 Sunday.
Ryan Preece: Preece will be making his 1st career start on a road course in the MENCS. Usually that is not a good thing for rookies. Preece will get some extra seat time since he is running in the K&N West Series race Saturday. Preece did finish 4th at Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval in the Xfinity Series last year so there is some hope for him. Just do nt expect much more than a top 20 finish Sunday.
Chris Buescher: Buescher gives high praise to his former teammate, AJ Allmendinger for teaching him how to navigate the road courses. Buescher finished 12th and 19th in his 2 races at Sonoma since joining JTG Daugherty Racing. Buescher is having a career season in the MENCS so he should be able to finish near the top 12 again Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Watching Stenhouse try to turn fast laps at Sonoma is like watching a fish out of water. It is not pretty. Stenhouse has 6 starts at the track on his MENCS resume and his best finish is 18th. Stenhouse has a 28th place average starting position and a 26.6 average finishing position at Sonoma. A good race for Stenhouse will be a top-20 finish this week.
Ryan Newman: Newman has been decent at Sonoma. He has a 13.4 average finishing position at the track since 2014. Last year he was able to finish 6th in Stage 1 and 10th in Stage 2. I expect Newman to finish between 12th and 15th and score Stage points in 1 of the Stages Sunday.
Favorites to win Sunday: Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch
Good Sleeper Picks: Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blnaey, Daniel SuarezChris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Matt DiBendetto,
MENCSl Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed
Final Practice 15-Lap Average Speed
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