Drivers leave Sonoma pondering what might have been
SONOMA, Calif. — Throughout pit road, the thought of what might have been was prevalent after Martin Truex Jr. scored his second Cup win of the season Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
Even if everything went well for competitors, it still would have been difficult to beat Truex and his Joe Gibbs Racing team. Truex led 51 of 110 laps and won by nearly three seconds.
For Michael McDowell, it was a slow pit stop that cost him seven spots and ended any chance of winning.
McDowell was third when the caution waved on Lap 93 for Denny Hamlin’s accident. McDowell exited pit road 10th. With three cars not pitting, McDowell restarted 13th.
“We had great stops all day, (but) the money stop just didn’t go how we needed it to go,” McDowell said after his seventh-place finish. “That’s all it takes in the Cup Series. We had a fast car today. We had a shot at it. If we had rolled off pit road there second or third, we would have a shot to win the race. Not saying that we would have -- because (Truex) was the car to beat all day -- but I felt like we had the second-best car.”
A victory would have put McDowell in the playoffs. Instead, he is 19th in points but has 10 more races — including the Chicago street course race, road course events at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis and the regular-season finale at Daytona — to score a win before the playoffs begin.
Kyle Busch was looking for what would have been a series-high fourth win of the season Sunday and more playoff points, but he had to settle for second place and a stage victory.
“I just wish we had a little bit more,” said Busch, whose runner-up finish Sunday follows his victory the previous week at WWT Raceway. “I tried hard to keep Martin Truex, Jr. honest. I felt like I could beat him a little on a lap, and then I would mess up and he would beat me by more on the next lap. We were trading a little bit, but he was able to pull away late.”
Kyle Larson had one of the best cars this weekend, but his race turned when the caution waved on Lap 51 for an errant tire that was in the middle of pit road. The caution came in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. He had yet to pit before the caution. After doing so, he restarted 18th and spent the rest of the race trying to claw his way back into the top 10. He finished eighth.
“We fought our way back to (ninth),” Larson said of his position before Hamlin’s accident brought out the caution. “Again, there was some people that stayed out. Just didn’t work out, but our race car was really good, I was happy about that.”
Larson looked back to Saturday’s qualifying session when he failed to make the final round and started Sunday’s race 16th.
“I think if I had qualified better,” he said, “it would have been a different result, maybe.”
Ross Chastain was one who benefitted from that caution on Lap 51. He had not run higher than 12th to that point. Chastain was on pit road when the caution came out. That allowed him to restart fourth. The second stage ended two laps after the restart and he placed third. Chastain was sixth when Hamlin wrecked and restarted eighth after pit stops.
“It’s definitely not the speed we wanted or the balance, we were just way too loose,” Chastain said.
But after three consecutive finishes outside the top 20, Chastain scored a top 10.
“Everybody’s tagging bumper-to-bumper there at the end down in Turn 11,” Chastain said of the end of the race. “It was all we had to hang on to 10th.”