NASCAR Picks for Sonoma
Length: 1.990 miles
Shape: Road Course
Type: Road Course
Location: Sonoma, California
The Series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, which means for the first time in 2014, drivers will be making both left and right-hand turns as they try to navigate the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. Of the two road courses currently on the Cup Series schedule, Sonoma is known as the more technically challenging of the two venues. With uphill and downhill sections and several snaking combination corners that are capped by a hard right-hand turn, drivers must be precise with both their braking and shifting in order to get around the track. Throw in the fuel mileage strategy that inevitably develops as drivers try to gain track position, and road racing is definitely one of the more unique challenges drivers face.
Road courses are also a unique challenge for fantasy owners. After all, some of the biggest names in the series just aren't that good at road racing, while some drivers that never really contend at ovals are among the best in the business at road courses. Further complicating matters are the road racing specialists that some teams hire just for the road course events. These road course "ringers" have plenty of upside thanks to their experience and talent, but they usually end up driving for smaller teams with unreliable equipment and crews. In general, fantasy owners can choose to be as aggressive or as conservative as they want to be when setting their rosters, but either way, lineups at Sonoma are probably going to be a bit different than any other used so far in 2014.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon has dominated Sonoma throughout his career, and his 8.2 average finish at the track and five victories are both the best in the series. In addition to the five wins, Gordon has tallied 13 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s in 21 starts at the track. He enters Sunday's race riding a streak of eight straight top-10 finishes at the road course. During the stretch, he has compiled a series-leading 4.4 average finish and has four top-three finishes.
Marcos Ambrose, #9 Stanley/Dewalt Power Tools, Richard Petty Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
Although his two Cup victories have come at Watkins Glen, Ambrose has been no slouch at Sonoma. His 11.8 average finish at the track is the third best in the series; in his last five starts at the track, he has a 5.2 average finish. Ambrose hasn't finished worse than eighth at Sonoma since his track debut, and over the past three years, he has earned the second-most points of any driver at road course events.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
His road course racing resume is among the best in Cup Series history, and two of his seven road course victories have come at Sonoma. Meanwhile, Stewart's 12.0 average finish at the track is the fourth best among active drivers. Overall, he has finished in the top 15 in 12 of his 15 starts at Sonoma. Logging nine top-10s and five finishes of either first or second.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Believe it or not, Bowyer's 240 points scored at road courses over the past three seasons are the most in the Cup Series. He has a series-leading four top-five finishes during the stretch, with three of those coming at Sonoma (including a win in 2012). In addition to three straight top-five finishes at Sonoma, Bowyer's 9.1 average finish at the track overall ranks second among active drivers.
Kurt Busch, #41 Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
If you need proof of just how much natural talent Busch has behind the wheel, just check out his recent results at Sonoma. He has finished first, third and fourth in his last three starts at the road course despite driving for three different race teams, including smaller teams like Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing. Busch should have no trouble putting up similar results this weekend in his first start at Sonoma with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
While road racing may not be his specialty, Johnson has still managed to mold himself into one of the better road course drivers in the series. In fact, he is the only driver with top-10 finishes in all six road races over the past three seasons. Johnson also has five straight top-10 finishes at Sonoma, logging a 5.2 average finish during the stretch and winning the 2010 race.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Harvick has always been a solid performer at Sonoma and at road courses in general. In 13 starts at Sonoma, he has nine top-15 finishes to go along with a 15.6 average finish. Harvick has been even better at the track recently, logging three top-10s in his last four starts and compiling a 9.4 average finish.
Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
It took him a couple of starts at Sonoma to get a feel for the track, but Logano has been on a roll ever since. He has finished 11th or better in his last three starts at Sonoma, posting a 9.0 average finish over the span. The success hasn't been limited to Sonoma either. Logano actually ranks ninth in the series in points scored at road courses over the past three seasons.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He has wins at both road courses on the schedule, but in recent years, Busch has done his best work at Watkins Glen. In fact, he has finished outside the top 10 in all five of his starts at Sonoma since winning the 2008 race at the track. Busch still has as much upside as any driver out there, but he is far from a safe option. In Yahoo! leagues in particular, I'd probably look for another A-List option.
A.J. Allmendinger, #47 Kingsford/Clorox, JTG Daugherty Racing [Yahoo Class B]
As far as sleeper picks are concerned, no driver has more potential this weekend than Allmendinger. His background is in road racing, and his skills have translated into NASCAR. He won two road course races in the Nationwide Series last year, and at the Cup level, he has four straight top-13 finishes at Sonoma. He has a great shot at a top-10 finish this weekend.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although he has never won a road course event at the Cup level, Edwards has been piling up some solid finishes at Sonoma lately. He has four finishes of 13th or better in his last six starts at the road course; more importantly, he has two third place finishes in his last three starts. Edwards has been trending in the right direction at Sonoma and could be a sneaky top-10 play this weekend.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
While he isn't known as a road racer, Biffle has been surprisingly effective at Sonoma throughout his career. He has a 12.0 average finish in his last 10 starts at the track, and he has only finished outside the top 15 twice during the stretch. More importantly, Biffle has three top-10s in his last four starts at Sonoma, including two straight. Don't forget about Biffle this weekend.