Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ambrose favored to win his first Sonoma race on Sunday

Always unique action on the road courses
LAS VEGAS -- With Jimmie Johnson's first win ever at Michigan Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports drivers have now won the past five races on the Sprint Cup schedule. The team has used their horsepower advantage powered from their in-house engine program to gain an edge over all the other teams, but this week on the road course at Sonoma Raceway, that power won't be as useful because on road courses it's more about driver skill than any other type of track on the circuit.

Before getting hopes up too high that a team other than Hendrick finally has a chance of winning a points race for the first time since Denny Hamlin at Talladega on May 4, consider that the current Hendrick drivers have combined for 11 road course wins. Not only do they have the horsepower advantage to help with all the elevation changes over the 1.99-mile 10-turn course, they also have the skilled drivers to get in and out of the right and left turns the quickest.

Jeff Gordon has nine career road course wins, the most of any current Cup driver. Five of those wins have come at Sonoma where he has led 454 laps in 21 starts. He has an amazing 13 top-5 finishes in those starts, but hasn't won on any road course since Sonoma in 2006. However, he's been really close lately with second-place finishes at Sonoma in two of the past three seasons.

Johnson wasn't the swiftest driver on road courses when he first started his Cup career. Until winning at Sonoma in 2010, his biggest highlight on the road course was slamming into the foam wall at Watkins Glen as a Nationwide series driver in 2000. But just like everything else Johnson has done over his career, he has forced himself to be one of the best and has finished ninth or better in his past five starts on the course that winds through the beautiful Sonoma Valley wine country.

Like Johnson, teammate Kasey Kahne was never fully comfortable when having to make right turns. In his first five starts at Sonoma his best finish was 23rd in 2007, but in his sixth try he won for Richard Petty while driving the No. 9 car. Since then he's done fairly well -- finishing sixth in 2010 and fourth last season.

Despite all the great Sonoma history Gordon and his Hendrick teammates have, none of them are favored by the LVH SuperBook to win on Sunday. Gordon is set at 6-to-1 odds -- much higher than his hey-day when he was offered at 2-to-1. Johnson is 7-to-1 and Kahne is 18-to-1. The other Hendrick driver we haven't mentioned is Dale Earnhardt Jr. at 60-to-1, and for good reason. Junior has never had a top-10 finish at Sonoma in 14 career Cup starts.

The favorite to win this week is road course ace Marcos Ambrose at 5-to-1 odds driving Petty's No. 9 car. He's never won at Sonoma, but has finished eighth or better in his past five starts. At Watkins Glen, the much faster of the two road courses on the schedule, Ambrose has the only two wins of his career.

Over the past nine seasons there have been nine different winners at Sonoma, which gives the LVH an opportunity to place several drivers at high odds in what really is a wide open race. In the nine races prior to the current different driver streak, Tony Stewart and Gordon had combined to win seven of the races.

Stewart is set at 8-to-1 odds and deserves strong consideration to break through as the 11th different driver to win a race this season. He hasn't won at Sonoma since 2005, but has seven road course wins overall.

Kevin Harvick has never won at Sonoma, but has been very competitive over his career there while with Richard Childress Racing where his best finish was second-place in 2007. He won at Watkins Glen in 2006 and with his skill set and the Hendrick engine power, he should fare well with possibly a career-best finish, which would mean a win.

The best value on the LVH board is Clint Bowyer at 18-to-1 odds. Only Gordon's 8.1 average finish is better at Sonoma than Bowyer's 9.1. He won there in 2012 in his first go-around with Michael Waltrip Racing and was fifth last season.

Read More Here....LVH odds to win

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