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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a week off before heading west to Sonoma, California for the first road course race of the season, which is always a pleasant change from the weekly grind of the ovals.

It also gives several drivers with a strong road course racing skill set one of their best opportunities to try and make the Chase by winning the race.

Ten drivers have won already this season and six Chase spots are available with 11 races to go before the 10-race Chase begins Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Of those 11 races, eight are likely to be won by drivers who have won already, but in three of those races – Sonoma, Daytona and Watkins Glen, we could see first-time winners on the season. Last season Aric Almirola won a rain shortened race at Daytona and A.J. Allmendinger won at The Glen to punch tickets into the Chase.

There’s also the rain variable to consider like we saw last week at Michigan where Kurt Busch won but didn’t have a car, which was a back-up, capable of winning on its own without the bad weather.

Another variable that is going to mix things up is an aero-package change beginning at Kentucky geared toward creating more down-force on the bigger horsepower tracks. Most of the teams are very receptive to the changes, and why shouldn’t they be considering the domination of Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. on those tracks this season.

It’s hard to imagine Harvick’s edge dropping, but it does make the Chase odds a little more attractive with a few other drivers who could have a major upgrade. Drivers like Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano should benefit as well as all the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. They’ve been just a bit a short with their programs, but this should give them a major boost, and five of the 10 races are on 1.5-mile tracks.

Next week we’ll break down all the top candidates to win at Sonoma. One driver to seriously consider right away is Jeff Gordon, who has won on his home track on five occasions and been runner-up in three of the past four races there.

Gordon is still winless on the season and this looks like the perfect spot for him to grab his ticket into the Chase while winning for the first time there since 2006. He might also be a driver who could benefit with the aero changes beginning at Kentucky. At 12-1 to win the Championship in his final season, why not take a stab.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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