Located in California's wine country, Sonoma 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. The track features several blind turns that are created by the changes in elevation over the hilly landscape of Sears Point. 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 turning it into an advantage later on.
Practice sessions: Friday, June 21, at 3:00 p.m. EST, 6:30 p.m. EST
Group qualifying: Saturday, June 22, at 2:05 p.m. EST
Race: Sunday, June 23, at 3:00 p.m. EST
Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Shape: Road course
Drivers to keep an eye on
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Last year's victory at Sonoma put to an end to what had been a history of under the radar performances on road courses for Bowyer. Since 2007 he's finished eighth or better in five of the six contests held at Sonoma. During last year's dominating performance Bowyer paced 71 of the 112 laps and held an average running position of second. This season he's finished inside the top 20 in 10 straight contests with six top-10s.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Thanks to four straight finishes of seventh or better Stewart has climbed 11 spots in the standings and is now inside the Chase window. Stewart is a two-time winner at Sonoma and has totaled five more victories at the Glen. Since 2007 his only finish outside of the top 10 was a crash in 2011 that came as payback from Brian Vickers. Stewart bounced right back with a runner-up performance last year. Smoke held an average running position of 10th and spent 92 percent of the race in the top 15 despite qualifying outside of the top 20.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Truex owns a pair of top-fives and four top-10s in seven trips to the Glen and is looking for that kind of consistency at Sonoma. Following a career-best finish of eighth in 2011, Truex was putting together an even better performance at Sonoma last year. He led a total of 15 circuits and was putting the final touches on a top-five but spun out on the final lap of the race to finish back in 22nd.
Joey Logano | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford | Penske Championship Racing
After two forgettable runs at Sonoma, Logano captured the pole in 2011 and finished sixth with five laps led. He qualified 14th a year ago and placed 10th but actually ran better. Logano spent 91.1 percent of the laps running in the top 15 versus just 54.5 percent when he started on the front row. Logano is now heading to Sonoma riding a streak of four consecutive top-10s this season.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Since 1995, Gordon has tallied five wins, a dozen top-fives and 16 top-10s in 18 starts at Sonoma. He hasn't won at the site since 2006 but has compiled seven finishes inside the top 10 during that time. Gordon has already suffered four DNFs this season, including wrecks in two of the last four starts. However, Gordon has also put together podium finishes in the recent events at Darlington Raceway and Dover International Speedway, other tracks where he historically runs well.
Kurt Busch | No. 78 Furniture Row/Sealy Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing
Each week it seems like Busch finds a new way to take himself out of contention. However, he won the 2011 race at Sonoma and scored another podium finish a year ago while piloting an unsponsored car. Busch is now driving for a one-car operation but has managed to qualify on the first row a total of four times this season. The near-misses have been frustrating, but this is the perfect track for Busch to get that aggression out.
Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Stanley Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports
Over the last four years, Ambrose has compiled an average starting position of 4.5 and an average finish 5.5 at Sonoma. Even though he's managed only a pair of top-10s this season road courses are where the two-time V8 Supercar champion really shines. Ambrose has won the last two races at the Glen and has scored a podium finish in all five of his career starts.
Ron Fellows | No. 33 Canadian Tire Chevrolet | Circle Sport Racing
Of the numerous road course ringers recruited for this week's race Fellows is the top selection because he's driving for the No. 33 team that got rookie Austin Dillon to an 11th-place finish last week after qualifying seventh. Despite his impressive road course resume Fellows hasn't driven a Cup car in a race since 2011 and hasn't tackled Sonoma since 2009. Last year he scored a top-five finish in all three road courses on the Nationwide Series.
Temper your expectations
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Not only has Earnhardt suffered two engine failures in the last four races of the season, he's also experienced a lack of success on road courses over his career, particularly at Sonoma. In 13 trips, Earnhardt has yet to score a top-10 and has qualified outside of the top 15 in four straight. Keep NASCAR's most popular driver in garage this week in favor of a better matchup.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Over the last three years, Hamlin owns four combined DNFs in the six road course races. During that time he's failed to record a top-30 and could not finish on the lead lap. Hamlin needs wins in a bad way to have any chance of making the Chase. It will take a very clever race strategy to make it happen this week, assuming Hamlin can avoid yet another mishap.