NASCAR TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350 ANALYSIS
I had a quiet conversation with my conscience to start the week as I was setting up driver ratings for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, which is the third of seven road course races on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season
- Me: Oh man, come on? Another road course race this week!
- Conscience: Yes, but you’ve always said Sonoma is your favorite course, what’s your problem?
- Me: I love Sonoma, but the race date was usually late June after 16 races of ovals had already run and the chance to see right and left turns for the first time during a season was a thrill and breath of fresh air.
- Conscience: It still has right and left turns, 12 of them over the 2.52-mile layout featuring 160 feet of elevation changes.
- Me: But the yearning for a road race isn’t there like it used to be, and I’m dreading the next five because not only is there too little passing and few lead changes, but it favors a small segment of drivers that are light years above most of the drivers with their road skills, which also skews the championship chase with the likes of Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. having a massive edge or head start on points heading into the Playoffs.
- Conscience: What are you talking about? Christopher Bell won the Daytona road course race in the second race of the season for his first career Cup win and got the automatic bid to the Playoffs with it.
- Me: You’re starting to annoy me, go away.
TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350 BETTING RESOURCES
- Date: Sunday, June 6, 2021
- TV-Time: FS1, 4:00 p.m. ET
- Venue: Sonoma Raceway
- Location: Sonoma, California
- Distance: 227 miles, 90 laps
- Defending Champions: Martin Truex Jr. (2019)
I remember in the mid-1990s when NASCAR die-hards poo-pooed the idea that two road course races a year were too many when there were only two road courses.
I would try to sell them on the idea of real racing across the world being done on courses and street circuits built to stress the drivers. I wonder how they feel about seven road courses on the schedule.
Chase Elliott is getting a lot of respect from oddsmakers this week as the top betting choice for Sunday's road race at Sonoma. (AP)
HANDICAPPING NASCAR AT SONOMA
Alright, enough complaining. We have sportsbooks offering odds on the race which means we have some business to take care of whether we like road courses or not. This isn’t about recreational fantasy leagues with no consequences if we lose, it’s about straight cash and I hate to lose so I work hard to ensure I don’t.
Let’s do a quick take on what has happened through the first 15 races where 11 different drivers have already won a race led by Joe Gibbs racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has three wins (all with 750 HP package).
Another JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, leads the series with points and nine top-fives but doesn’t have a win yet after having seven wins in 2020. Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch also have won under the JGR flag.
Kevin Harvick led the series with nine wins last season but doesn’t have any so far, although it looks like their 550 HP package will be their best chance. No top-fives in the eight races using the 750 package. Here’s to hoping we catch him at some point in the 14-to-1 range at one of the 1.5-mile tracks.
But the season has evolved with the elite teams getting better (Roush Fenway Racing, too) along the way. First, it was JGR doing the dominating, mostly in the 750 package, but Hendrick Motorsports has made it clear they are ready to take control as they’ve won the last three races on the season. They have two wins each for Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman and one each for Chase Elliott and William Byron.
Hendrick is the winningest organization in NASCAR Cup history with 269 wins following Larson’s Coca-Cola 600 win last week where for the fourth time in five races on 1.5-mile tracks he led the most laps.
Larson has finished second or better in his last four races and now goes to his home track in Sonoma. The Elk Grove native has never won on a road course in the Cup Series but does have a K&N Pro Series West win on it from 2014. He has some serious momentum coming into this weekend, where there will once again be no practices or qualifying (Larson already on pole) because it’s not a new track.
“Sonoma is a finesse track, but you still have to be aggressive,” said Larson who is 8-to-1 to win Sunday. “I’ve had a lot of success there with three poles but I seemed to struggle during the race, so I’m really looking forward to going there in Hendrick Motorsports equipment. Hendrick Motorsports’ road course program is really good, especially the 9 team. It seems like Chase Elliott has won every road course race the last four years.”
No on Larson’s Elliott insight, but he’s close. Elliott has six career road wins in 14 Cup starts on them and has won five of the last six, but none of them at Sonoma’s technical course, and Elliott knows he has some work to do to get better.