NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

2012 NASCAR Toyota/ Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway – Sonoma, California
1.99 Mile Road Course – 110 laps
Sunday, June 24, 2012, 3:00 Pm Eastern, TV: TNT
Defending Champion: Kurt Busch
All odds courtesy of Bookmaker

NASCAR comes to Sonoma for the first road race of the season. Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose are co-favorites and will start on the front row.

It was an emotional Father’s Day last Sunday when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his first race in four years at Michigan. Junior ended a winless streak of 143 races.  Ironically, his last win came at the same track on Father’s Day in 2008.

Now, NASCAR drivers will make their first right turns of the season as they come to Sonoma’s road course. Far from a relaxing Sunday drive through the California wine country, Sonoma is one of the most challenging tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series if only because it is one of only 2 road courses along with Watkins-Glen in New York. Much like clay court specialists in tennis, you will see some different drivers among the favorites then you normally would on the intermediate ovals, short tracks or super speedways that make up the majority of the 36 races for the Sprint Cup.

Marcos Ambrose won his second straight pole at Sonoma after he was on the pole last week at Michigan as well. Jeff Gordon will start second. Here is the complete starting grid. 

Let’s take a look at some of the favorites for the race with odds courtesy of Bookmaker.

Jeff Gordon (3/1)

Gordon is a 4 time Sprint Cup Champion, and is unquestionably one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. Unfortunately, he has had some very bad luck this season. He only has one top 5, and 3 other top 10’s this season. He sits 20th in the race for the chase standings, 190 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. He will struggle to be one of the 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase, unless he starts winning some races and can grab one of the two wild card spots. He finished 6th at Michigan last week. Gordon leads the field in road course wins with 9, and desperately needs number 10. In 19 starts at Sonoma, Gordon has 15 top 10 finishes, 12 top 5’s and 5 wins. His last win at Sonoma was in 2006, but he has 5 straight top 10’s since then including a runner up last year. Gordon should contend at the end as well as he does on road courses barring an accident or engine problems.

Marcos Ambrose (3/1)

Ambrose is 17th in points 177 behind. He has 3 top 10’s this season, all in the last 5 races. He finished ninth at Michigan last week after starting from the pole. Ambrose also won the pole this week at Sonoma. Although this is only his fourth start at Sonoma, he has 3 straight top 6 finishes, after a transmission problem led to a 42nd place finish in his first start at the track. He has a road course win at Watkins-Glen, his only career NASCAR win. He has a great shot at his second as he does well on the two road courses.

Juan Pablo Montoya (6/1)

Montoya started off the season with a spectacular fiery crash at the Daytona 500 when he somehow ran into one of the track dryers filled with jet fuel. Montoya was fine, but it caused a nearly two hour delay to clean up the mess. He is 19th in points 188 points behind Kenseth. Montoya finished 8th last week at Michigan, his second top 10 of the year. Montoya has 2 career NASCAR wins and both came on road tracks. He won this race in 2007, and has 3 other top 6’s in 5 starts. Last year he finished 22nd, his worst finish at the track. Montoya qualified 12th. if he can work through the traffic, he might be worth a play.

Jimmie Johnson (9/1)

Johnson is 4th in points, 33 behind Kenseth. He has wins at Darlington and Dover, along with 6 other top 5’s and 3 other 10 tens in 15 races this season. Johnson has 5 straight 11th or better finishes including a 5th at Michigan last week. Johnson will start third at Sonoma. In 10 starts at the track he has 5 top 10’s, including 3 top 5’s and a win in 2010. Johnson is my pick to win his second Sonoma race.

Kurt Busch (9/1)

The elder Busch brother has had a rough season. He lost his ride last season at Penske racing due to a verbal conflict with a reporter. He got a job driving for Phoenix racing, but they are a small team and don’t have the resources of a big team like Penske. Kurt has one top 10 this season and is 27th in points, 276 behind. A bad season got even worse when he was suspended for the Pocono race for another verbal altercation with a reporter. He is on probation for the rest of the season. Kurt will start 8th at Sonoma right next to his younger brother Kyle who qualified 7th. Kurt is the defending champion in this race and also has 4 top 5’s in 11 Sonoma starts. The win broke a string of 4 straight 15th or worse finishes. Busch is a good road course driver, but he doesn’t have the equipment to compete with the big teams. Still he might scratch out a top 10.

Kyle Busch (11/1)

Kyle Busch is 12th in points, 133 behind Kenseth, but Busch does hold one of the two wild cart spots for the chase. He has 7 top 10’s, with 5 top 5’s and a win at Richmond in 15 races so far. However, he has finished 29th or worst in 3 straight races, including a 32nd at Michigan last week. Busch qualified 7th at Sonoma. He looks to break out of his slump at track where he won in 2008. He also has another top 10 in 7 starts at the track. Busch finished 11th here last year. Busch should be able to get a top ten barring something unforeseen.

Tony Stewart (15/1)

Stewart started off the season with 2 wins in the first 5 races at Las Vegas and California. He hasn’t won since but does have 6 top 5’s and 7 top 10’s in 15 races. He finished third at Pocono and was the runner up at Michigan. Stewart is the defending Sprint Cup Champion, and is 8th in points, 74 points behind. Stewart will start 24th at Sonoma. In 13 starts at Sonoma, Stewart has 8 top 10’s, including 4 top 5’s with 2 wins. He hasn’t won here since 2005 though. An accident took him out last lead leading to a 39th place finish that broke a string of 4 straight top 10’s.

Kevin Harvick (15/1)

Harvick is 6th in points, 61 points behind. He has 8 top 10’s including 3 top 5’s in 15 races. he finished 10th at Michigan, a string of 5 straight top 16’s or better. He qualified 26th at Sonoma. He has never won at Sonoma in 11 career starts but does have 4 top tens including 3 top 5’s. He came in ninth here last year. I think a top 10 is more likely than a win for Harvick.

Greg Biffle (20/1)

Biffle is third in points, 17 points behind Kenseth. He has a win at Texas along with 8 top 5’s and 9 top 10’s in 15 races. He hasn’t finished lower than 24th at any race, including a fourth at Michigan last week. Biffle qualified 4th at Sonoma this week. In nine Sonoma starts he has never won, but does have 3 top 10’s including 2 top 5’s. He finished 23rd last year at the track. I don’t think Biffle will contend for the win, but a top ten is likely.

Other contenders include Carl Edwards, Martin Truex, Jr, Brad Keselowski, and Clint Bowyer (all 25/1), Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman (all 30/1), Matt Kenseth 50/1, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (60/1) Here is a complete list of the odds for all drivers courtesy of bookmaker.

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