Sonoma from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams take on the Road Course at Sonoma this weekend. There will be some different faces (though at least one of them will be familiar, Boris Said) and a whole lot of right turns to go along with a few left ones. Why does this matter? Well… I’ll give you my opinion of that but just maybe it is because this race at Sonoma will be very different than those in the past.

Although there are several things that come to mind that will be different, one in particular is there are some new faces taking to the track with the rest of those “seasoned veterans” and some of them have never been on this track in a cup car. That may or may not make a difference but it is interesting to watch them learn the nuances of Sonoma.

There always seems to be some media hype about the addition of the stages and their addition to this road race at Sonoma just might make for a more interesting race over all. (Well, that is this fan’s opinion anyway.) Since the track is long, a little over 2.5 miles, the race is short lap-wise and is probably as physically demanding as it is mentally and does tend to elicit strong emotions at times.

I don’t know why the media folks talk so much about the stages since we are so far along in the season. From this fan’s view it definitely has already been shown the stages have added drama and intensity to the races this season. I wasn’t one that really cared one way or the other about the addition of the stages when they were first introduced to us at the beginning of the 2017 season but I have noticed the change they have made.

In most every race, the stages have been a force in driving the interest in the races even through the middle and latter parts of the races before the end press to the checkered flag. It appears the drivers want to take all the possible playoff points to the playoffs as they can. So far, Martin Truex Jr. has the most and he is a good enough road racer that he could take a few more this weekend and maybe even the win.

But before I start talking about more of the possible winners for this event, let’s talk about another thing that is different for this one over the last one at Sonoma.

One of the most noticeable changes to the cars this season, at least in this fan’s opinion, is the much reduced spoiler on the rear. Along with that change there is the change in the front splitter and between the two, there has been a noticeable reduction in down-force. That reduction has been noticeable in several ways at many of the tracks but the most important is the way it has affected the braking of the cars. Since there is reduced down-force and drag the speeds have been faster, especially on the straights, and that has resulted in many having to change the way they brake going into the turns.

At some tracks this has resulted in brake failures along with torn up race cars and early exits from those races. In any of those circumstances, some of the wrecks haven’t been pretty and the drivers have often emerged from their cars stunned or with the breath knocked out of them. No matter how you look at it, the reduced down-force is going to be something the drivers are going to have to deal with. At Sonoma this weekend, this fan expects there will be some problems caused by the reduced down force and it has already been shown during the practice sessions that wheel hop is going to be a very real problem for some, if not all of the competitors at some point in the race and could be a deciding factor in who wins.

Sonoma is a track that requires finesse and smooth transitions at just about every turn of the track. It isn’t a track that can be attacked with reckless abandon and it will require patience and perseverance for the entire race. There will be no room for mistakes on pit road and mistakes on the track can lead to disaster for any of the drivers. Speeding on pit road is going to prove very costly for anyone that doesn’t keep it within the timing limits and it could also make a difference in winning and losing this one.

There are a lot of really good road course racers in the cup series right now and there are some we just don’t know how they will do. The Bush brothers, Kyle and Kurt, are both excellent road coursers and either of them could win. Clint Bowyer is another and, with his performance so far this season, he is about due for a win this season. Besides, he has won here before and it wouldn’t surprise this fan if he does it again on Sunday.

Some others that deserve mention are Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick along with a host of others. In fact, there are many that could win this one but I am just not sure which one has the best chance.

Of course we all know this is Dale Jr.’s last race at Sonoma since he is retiring from competition at the end of this year. He is also a good choice for a possible winner on Sunday afternoon and, judging from his practices and performance over the last few years, he has as good a chance of winning as any in the field. Personally, I’d like to see it but he isn’t one of my top choices even though I do like surprises…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 24, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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