Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Toyota Save Mart 350

by Eric McClung on June 20, 2012 @ 10:13:32 PDT


Located in California's wine country, Sonoma Raceway (formerly Infineon Raceway) is the first of only two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. When compared to the other, Watkins Glen International, Sonoma is the more technical of the two. Built on the hilly landscape at Sears Point, several blind turns are created by the changes in elevation. Pit strategy is huge, as there are a limited number of pit stops required to run the entire race. Look for some teams to short pit to get off-sequence in hopes of gaining an advantage.

Practice sessions: Friday, June 22 at 3:00 pm ET, Saturday, June 23 12:30 pm ET, 1:45 pm ET
Qualifying: Friday, June 22 at 6:40 pm ET
Race: Sunday, June 24 at 3:00 pm ET
Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Shape: Road course
Length: 1.99 miles
Laps: 110
Turns: 10

Drivers to keep an eye on

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Prior to being wrecked last year, his first ever DNF in a road course race, Stewart had strung together four straight top-10s at Sonoma. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Smokeís career average running position ranks second among all drivers. Even though there have been some bumps along the way this season, Stewart has scored four podium finishes in the last seven races while seeking this third win of the season.

Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Since 2007, Bowyer landed three fourth-place finishes and another top-10 in five starts at Sonoma. Last yearís performance was his most impressive after qualifying ninth and holding an average running position of eighth, both career bests. Bowyer, among the most underrated road course drivers on the circuit, is riding a streak of seven straight finishes of 13th or better this season and should add another similar result in wine country.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

After poor finishes at Sonoma and Watkins Glen in 2010, his first season as a full-time Cup driver, Keselowski answered back with a top-10 finish at each site last year, highlighted by a runner-up performance at The Glen. The quick turnaround came as no surprise give his impressive resume on road courses in the Nationwide Series which features four top-fives and seven top-10s in nine competitions. While Keselowski has lacked consistency this season he owns a pair of wins and clearly performs well when right hand turns are required.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Stanley Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

With a fifth-place showing at Sonoma and a victory at The Glen, Ambrose was the only driver to score top-five finishes in both road course races last year. The two-time Australian V8 Supercar champion has qualified inside the top-10 in each of his four career starts at Sonoma while finishing sixth or better in three straight. Ambrose appeared to have the 2010 race won after leading 35 of the 110 total laps but stalled his car as the leader during a late caution lap.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Aggressive driving with five laps to go cost Montoya a likely top-five finish and a fifth straight top-10 at Sonoma in 2012. JPM has never held an average running position worse than 12th on this track and ranks third on the all-time list. Itís been a rough season for Montoya but he just collected his second top-10 of the season last week and is a road course ace with or without the momentum.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Entering Sonoma with a streak of six straight top-10s at the site, including four top-fives and a runner-up performance last year, Gordon has a great opportunity to capture a desperately needed win that would put him into the Chase wild card hunt. With last weekís top-10 Gordon has worked his way back into the top 20 in points, a requirement to make the postseason, and has totaled three finishes of 13th or better in the last four. Gordon ranks 11th among all drivers in average running position this season and finally looks like a safe start now that his black cloud appears to have passed.

Kurt Busch | No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet | Phoenix Racing

Last year, Busch dominated Sonoma leading 76 of the 110 laps while holding an average running position of third. In fact, he leads all drivers in that statistic with an average pace of 10th in the seven Sonoma races held since 2005. While heís is no longer piloting a top-tier ride the slower speeds on a road course should level the playing field a bit while the aggressive driving should allow the feisty Busch to muscle his way through the field.

Robby Gordon | No. 7 MAPEI/SPEED Energy Dodge | Robby Gordon Motorsports

Lacking sponsorship in recent years Gordon has reduced his schedule and began start and park last year. This week heíll be attempting to qualify for just his fourth race of the season but itís one that fantasy managers will want to capitalize on. Gordon won at Sonoma in 2003 and was the runner-up in 2010. With all of his efforts and focus on running this one race Gordon is a strong bottom-tier selection on a track that plays right into his strengths.

Temper your expectations

Matt Kenseth | No. 17Ford EcoBoost Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

The current points leader could very well see his streak of 10 straight top-11 finishes come to an end this week at Sonoma. In a dozen career starts at the site Kenseth has only managed one top-10 and four top-15s. Among all drivers his career average running position of 20.5 places him all the way back in 23rd.

Boris Said | No. 32 Ford | FAS Lane Racing

While Said has all the skills needed to finish strong at Sonoma heís only scored one top-10 on this track since 2008. One of the biggest issues facing him is an aggressive style of driving that has frustrated several of the Cup regulars, highlighted by recent flare-ups with Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, which resulted in damage to Saidís vehicle. If Said happens to be performing well as the race winds down it would be no surprise if another upset driver knocks him out of the way as payback.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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