The first road course race of the season reveals many of the same names at the top of the leaderboard. The Stewart-Haas Racing empire dominated final practice with Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer posting quick 10-lap averages, but there are some top-10 capable drivers competing in Level Two this week and that could make the difference between winning and losing.
This week, Clint Bowyer will show why he is now a part of Level One. He has been one of the most consistent drivers all season, and putting himself in a position to win each week has paid off twice now. There is no reason to believe he is not going to contend for another victory if he gets track position late in the Toyota / Save Mart 350k because five of his last seven races on this track ended in top-fives. Last year, he was second to his teammate Harvick.
Start the Dominators
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch each have wins in the past three years at Sonoma. Harvick’s victory last year came as part of a three-race streak of top-10s. Busch also has a three-race string of top-10s with a victory in 2015 and a fifth-place result last year – despite sustaining some damage. There is no substitute for momentum and no one has more of that than these two dominators.
Park Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson has been the top-contending Chevrolet driver most of the year and has probably been on a majority of rosters many weeks. In allocation management games, that means he is coming close to being exhausted, so this is a great weekend to rest him. Larson’s last three races on road courses have ended outside the top 20 despite his ability to qualify on the front row each time. In fact, all but one of his eight attempts on this track type ended worse than they started and that has cost place-differential points in games that offer them.
Start Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. needs something good to happen. He’s been as strong as Harvick and Busch, but has not had good fortune at the right time during races and seems to lag behind every week. That is significant when two racers are running away with bonus points and could hinder his ability to make the final round of the playoffs. He won the most recent road course race at the Glen, however, and took the top spot at Sonoma in 2013. On Friday, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace and bruised the nose of his car, but that might mean he has his bad luck behind him for the weekend.
Start Jamie McMurray
While he has been solid in qualification, Jamie McMurray is still looking for his first road course win. That probably won’t come this week, but he should be able to contend for a top-five if the race develops long green flag segments. McMurray had the fifth-quickest, 10-lap average on Friday and all of the drivers listed above him are ones that are considered Level One contenders. McMurray’s struggles thus far in the season should contribute to a low salary cap and make him a great value.
Park the Roushketeers
The evaluation process underway at Roush-Fenway Racing will probably bear fruit in the next couple of months, but this is not the time to risk starting them. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished outside the top 25 in three of the last four road course races and has a best effort of 20th. He did not show much speed in Friday’s practice with the 22nd fastest lap of 92.397 mph. Trevor Bayne landed eighth on the speed chart, but there is a lot of weight on his shoulders this week that might contribute to his making a mistake.
Start Tomy Drissi
Yes, he was last on the speed chart with a lap of 89.607 mph and is not likely to qualify much better. The good news is that Tomy Drissi has no place to go but up. His road racing skill and the overall strength of this team normally run by Landon Cassill suggests he is going to earn positive place-differential points. A little luck could land him in the top 25. …Ok… maybe the top 30.
Start AJ Allmendinger
Overall, AJ Allmendinger is a much better value at Watkins Glen than Sonoma, but one is not going to find a better choice in Level Three. He won’t contend for a top-15, but a solid top-25 will go a long way – as long as he is rightly-priced. In cap games that have made a radical adjustment to his value, skip him – but in games that are lagging behind in his estimation or in contests with a tiered approach to the roster, he could be a hidden gem.