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The NASCAR Cup Series weaves through Wine Country for the final FOX broadcast on the 2022 schedule. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is the 16th points-paying race of the year and the final one before a well-deserved off week, the only one Cup has before a grueling 20 races in 20 weeks, taking us all the way through the season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November.
At Sonoma, what’s old is new again as NASCAR reverts back to the track’s shorter 1.99-mile course for this event. That, in combination with the sport’s Next Gen chassis, give this race a whole new look. Its length is now extended to 110 laps while the transition to the sport’s younger generation means roughly a dozen drivers never raced on this layout, last utilized in 2018.
The change also means “The Carousel” is replaced with “The Chute,” shortening the track and hopefully creating more side-by-side action at a track where passing had dried up with the old car.
“The Chute creates a little bit more passing going into [turn] four and also going down what I would call [turn] seven,” Kevin Harvick says. “I think that’ll fit our cars better.”
It’ll also make things tricky for drivers, who typically come off that turn wide but then have to get in line to avoid a wall that pops out at that section of the track as they accelerate off the curb.
The other key passing zone is in turn 11, right before the start/finish line, as the cars decelerate into a tight hairpin. It’s where we’ve seen plenty of contact in previous years and passes for the win, like Tony Stewart’s last-lap duel with Denny Hamlin in 2016.
As this roller-coaster year of NASCAR parity continues, Sonoma marks an opportunity for two previous kings of the road courses to claim their crown. Martin Truex Jr. will have former crew chief Cole Pearn making a guest appearance on the team this weekend, reuniting a duo that won here twice together (2018-19). But that June event three years ago marks the last time Truex has tasted victory on a track with left and right turns, falling behind the success of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott ever since.
Even Elliott, who’s earned half of his 14 career wins on road courses, has struggled in Wine Country compared to Larson, the defending champion of this race. He’s never won here and hasn’t been victorious on a right-turn track since Road America on July 4 of last year.
Can they fend off Larson and more recent success stories on this track type, like Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger? Fans will be eager to see if that duo gets back up front to settle the score from a Circuit of the Americas finish back in March that went Chastain’s way. The ‘Dinger, in particular, enters the weekend with momentum after a NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Portland International Raceway and has nothing to lose as a Cup part-timer running for Kaulig Racing’s upstart No. 16.
Add in pit strategy during a 55-lap final sprint to the finish and the setup is there for fireworks down the stretch. We’ll see if a move back to that high-speed Chute is the spark needed to bring action back to what was one of NASCAR’s best racetracks during last decade’s pre-COVID era.
Toyota/Save Mart 350
Date: Sunday, June 12
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Track: Sonoma Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90