It’s seems like an eternity since the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ran a race. It’s only been one week, but the anticipation for Sunday’s road course race at Sonoma Raceway is killing me. Gentlemen, and lady, start your damn engines, like now. I missed you guys.
We’ve seen races on all types of tracks through the first 15 races, but the summer season of NASCAR brings us the two road circuits where we’ll see drivers make both right and left turns.
The first weekend of August will take us to Watkins Glen International, but my favorite without a doubt is Sonoma just because it’s a more technical course with elevation changes. This course separates the “roundy-round” drivers from the truly skilled drivers. It’s also got a nice back drop with the beautiful wine country in Napa and Sonoma Valley.
Some drivers hate the road courses and they’re real easy to locate just by looking at past history. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has only one top-five finish in 16 Sonoma starts with a 19.4 average finish.
Matt Kenseth doesn’t have any top-fives in 16 starts with a 22nd-place average finish and Denny Hamlin has just one top-five in 10 starts (22.7 avg.). Those are drivers considered to be good candidates to win weekly on all other tracks, but on the roads you throw them out of any betting or fantasy equation.
The drivers you want to key on this week are the ones who excel over and over again on the roads, and specifically Sonoma. The two road courses are radically different with Watkins Glen being much faster with longer straights and sweeping turns.
Entering and exiting the turns fastest at Sonoma takes special skills and there are a few who consistently do it well.
The driver who has impressed the most at Sonoma over the past few years has been Las Vegan Kurt Busch, who has four top-five finishes there in his last five starts, including a 2011 win. Last season he was runner-up to his brother Kyle Busch, who won there for the second time in his career.
Although Kyle has more wins than his brother, his two wins are his only top-fives there in 11 starts. Kurt leads the series with seven top-five Sonoma finishes and if we look at his body of work on the roundy-round tracks, he’s been even more consistent.
Kurt leads the series with 13 top-10 finishes in 15 starts and got his only win of the season at Pocono three weeks ago which is known as the Superspeedway that drives like a road course. All betting strategies this week should begin with the elder Busch brother.
After that you have to look at Kyle Busch despite his win or nothing past history at Sonoma. Last season he started a string of winning four of five races on the schedule with his Sonoma win.
The week off couldn’t have come at better time since he’s finished 30th or worse in his past four starts. Despite the poor run of luck, he still leads the series with three wins and nine top-five finishes this season.
Jimmie Johnson was never known as a road course driver. In fact, one of his greatest highlights was him running head-on, full speed with no brakes, into a wall at Watkins Glen when drove in the Xfinity Series. After having just one top-five in his first seven Sonoma starts, he’s finished ninth or better in his past seven, including a 2010 win.
Kevin Harvick has never won at Sonoma, but he’s been very competitive with four top-five finishes, including fourth last season. Look for him to contend for another top-five.
Clint Bowyer is using absolute junk under the hood this season as he’s in kind of a lame duck situation until he takes over Tony Stewart No. 14 next year, but his skills make him someone to consider in match-ups and fantasy lineups. Maybe even a win like he did 2012? He finished third last season and leads the series with a 8.6 average finish in 10 starts. The next best average in the series is Stewart’s 12.4.
Sunday’s race will be the final FOX telecast of the season before the coverage shifts to NBC at Daytona. I never liked listening to Jeff Gordon’s dry monotone voice in all his interviews during his career, but he brought a huge upgrade to the FOX coverage this year with his insights.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].