Next stop: the road course at Sonoma. It’s wine country, but for some drivers, racing at a road course like Sonoma makes it more like whine country. Road courses can be kryptonite for many. For example, as great as Dale Earnhardt was, only ONE of his 76 victories came at a track of right and left turns.
It’s weird to see so many top racers with zeroes in their 2017 victory column. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Matt Kenseth are a good place to start for fielding an all-star team. Could Sonoma cure those zeros in the victory column? It might.
To say Kyle Busch is slumping is overstating things a bit. He’s getting the finishes, but one thing or another is keeping out of victory lane. Racing at Sonoma could be the place where the 2015 champion could break through. Busch is a contender just about anywhere, and this road course has been one of many scenes for his success.
While it may be a stretch to say Busch is slumping, it’s not an overstatement in the case of Kasey Kahne. Mired at 21st in the standings, he’s done a bigger disappearing act than DB Cooper. Sonoma could change that. Driving for Richard Petty, Kahne was a 2009 winner in the Toyota Save Mart 350. A former open wheeler, he’s got the skill set to perform well.
A couple of other drivers that haven’t hoisted trophies in a while are Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray. You don’t think of Bowyer as a road course ace, but he’s actually won at Sonoma before. His roller coaster career has been spent on teams with fluctuating fortunes like RCR and Michael Waltrip. We won’t even get into his ride of misfortune at H Scott Motorsports, while waiting for the 14 ride to open up. Bowyer is a wheel man capable of winning just about anywhere. The dirt track mentality actually works well at Sonoma, a road course that often races like a short track.
Meanwhile, Jamie Mac has had the knack for scoring random wins at random places. His resume may not be dotted with gaudy numbers, but he’s managed to somehow pull off the big ones. Were it not for Juan Pablo Montoya darned near pulled off a Sonoma win in 2007. McMurray cut his racing teeth on go karts, so he got a taste for road course racing back in his early days.
There are plenty of other winless drivers quite capable of scoring that elusive win at Sonoma. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin may not be the first names you think of when it comes to road course expertise, but once again, these are drivers capable of winning anywhere. If not for Tony Stewart, Hambone would have won it last year. Harvick is a very technique-savvy driver. Don’t be shocked if he pulls it off. Like many of these aforementioned drivers, Hamlin has come close to victory, only to have it elude him.
Of course, there are plenty of other drivers who have enjoyed better fortunes who may well win Sunday at Sonoma. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. immediately come to mind.
It’s wide open as to who has the best chance. Gone are the days where few series regulars had an aptitude for road course racing. Gone are the days when teams needed to have Boris Said and Ron Fellows to score a respectable finish.
This race should be fun. You have the elements of the course itself to offer challenges, plus all the tight turns that give racing here that short track feel.