Sonoma Race Wrap: Pearn's pit road trick drives Truex to victory
Martin Truex Jr. showed you don't always have to have the fastest car to find the way to victory lane at Sonoma Raceway Sunday.
Using a masterful bluff call on pit road, Truex's No. 78 team was able to sucker Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer into pitting nearly 10 laps too soon in the final stage of Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, allowing the defending Cup Series champion to collect his second win in wine country.
The win was Truex's third of 2018 and gives him 18 playoff points as the circuit heads to Chicagoland Speedway. Oh, by the way, Truex has won the last two races in the Windy City, so don't be surprised if the 78 goes back-to-back.
How Truex won the race: With his driver running second to Kevin Harvick in the early portion of Stage 2, Cole Pearn used some trickeration on the radio to put his driver in the best position. Knowing the 78 probably didn't have the speed to beat Harvick, Pearn told Truex to pit, knowing the No. 4 team would be listening in on their strategy. When Harvick ducked onto pit road on lap 73, Truex stayed out and took over the lead.
???????????????? pic.twitter.com/bF33BWRlkW— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) June 24, 2018
"Cole and I have a great relationship," Truex said. "I never question him when he's calling races, and when he has things going on when he's talking to me in the car, it's just, okay — it's yes or no answers for me. So yeah, he told me to pit, and I was like, okay, I'm going to pit, and then he said, don't pit, so I'm like, fine, I'm just going to stay out."
Hoping that the race would stay green, Pearn kept Truex on the track for eight laps, banking that Harvick and Clint Bowyer would use up their fresh tires. Sure enough, after making his last stop, Truex easily chased down Harvick for the lead and coasted to a 10.5-second win over Harvick.
Sleepy Sonoma: Over the last few years, the road course events at Sonoma and Watkins Glen have thrust themselves into the spotlight thanks to the close quarters racing and likelihood of mistakes as drivers navigate the left and right turns.
But on Sunday, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. Maybe it's the relaxing vibes of Napa Valley or the fact that these races are much more competitive than they used to be, but Sunday's race only saw one caution that wasn't for a stage break. And it wasn't for a crash, either, as A.J. Allmendinger missed a shift entering Turn 1 and grenaded the engine in his No. 47. We'll get to the Dinger in just a moment.
If you eliminated the yellows for stages, Sunday's race would've set the market for the fewest cautions at Sonoma since NASCAR started racing there back in 1989.
Dinger's disappointing day: Another year, another disappointment at Sonoma for A.J. Allmendinger. After staying out on a different strategy than most of the other leaders to win Stage 1, Allmendinger found himself mired in traffic for the start of Stage 2.
Heading into Turn 1, Allmendinger went to grab third gear and instead shifted into first, blowing the engine in his Chevy. He said he was trying to take care of his equipment, but you can't help but wonder why the 47 team chose to take the stage win over working toward being in the best position to win the race, especially given their position in the point standings.
Listen in as a missed shift ends @AJDinger's day at Sonoma. pic.twitter.com/TEeBTO5r9N— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 24, 2018
"I haven't missed a shift in almost 10 years at a road course but I just missed a shift," Allmendinger said. "When it happened I was in shock. I've let everybody down."
The closest thing to a true road course einger in NASCAR finished the day dead last in 38th. The California native has consistently run into trouble at Sonoma, finishing 35th or worse in four of his last five starts despite qualifying in the top five each of those races.
The Big Four: With 10 races left before the regular season finale, the path to Homestead looks pretty clear. With only six drivers having a win, we know that if a driver wins this season, they're guaranteed a playoff spot. But if you're going to make the championship race, you're going to have to beat some combination of Kyle Busch, Harvick, Truex and Bowyer.
Those drivers have combined to win 14 of 16 races this season. Even more evident of their dominance is the only time they haven't won were the two restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega. The dominance shown by this group has them in rare territory. It's been 40 years since NASCAR had just as few winners through the first 16 races in a reason. And as we head to many of the same tracks they've dominated in the first half of the season, don't be shocked if they continue to rack up the wins and playoff bonus points.
Social spotlight: Normally, this spot is reserved for something on the track. But after a scary accident, we want to take a moment to wish our analyst and pit reporter Wendy Venturini a speedy recovery.
Wendy suffered a concussion and a skull fracture when she was struck by a car while jogging Saturday morning near the track. We're happy to say her prognosis is "very good" and we hope to see her back home soon.
Today, PRN's @WendyVenturini was out running in Sonoma, CA and was stuck by a car. Her prognosis is good but will require a few nights stay in a local hospital. Please offer your thoughts and prayers, as we are, for a speedy recovery.— PRN (@PRNlive) June 24, 2018
Bloomin' Monday: The only things certain in life are death and taxes. But a free Bloomin' Onion at Outback is quickly becoming the third. Kevin Harvick's runner-up finish at Sonoma means you win with a free Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse. Race on in and tell your server you're there for Bloomin' Monday and they'll take care of the rest!
Next week: The folks over at NBC take over the television reins as NASCAR races into Chicago for the Overton's 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. has won back-to-back races at the 1.5-mile oval, but so far it's been the Kyle Busch & Kevin Harvick show at the intermediate tracks. Will we see a new winner or is it business as usual? Catch Sunday's race on NBC Sports Network and MRN.