Race Capsule: Truex Jr. finally tops the field at Sonoma
The Scoop: The wine in victory lane could not have tasted sweeter for anyone that Martin Truex Jr. Sunday. His win in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway broke a 218-race winless streak just shy of his 33rd birthday (Saturday). Truex Jr. and crew chief Chad Johnson played pit strategy perfectly during the late stages of the race and pulled away from the competition on the last green flag run. Truex Jr. led the most laps in the field (51), by far, including the final 28 laps. Juan Pablo Montoya seemed poised to score at least runner-up in the race, but ran out of gas just short of the finish and placed 34th. Jeff Gordon drove through the field on the final run to close the race in 2nd - he led the race just before Truex Jr. did, but pitted just as a caution flew and got penalized for pitting while pit road was closed. He drove from outside the top 30 to that runner-up position in about 30 laps. Carl Edwards finished 3rd and gained a few championship points on Jimmie Johnson (9th), who now leads the standings by 25. Kurt Busch got penalized for speeding on pit road twice...under green...but drove back from a lap down to finish 4th. Busch likely would have won the race, had he not taken himself out of contention yet again. Last year's winner, Clint Bowyer, was 5th and Kasey Kahne (winner in 2009) 6th. Marcos Ambrose led the race's first 18 laps, but faded and was 7th. The race got off to a quirky start as drivers making their Cup debuts collided on pit road. No. 52 Paulie Harraka slammed into the rear of No. 19 Alex Kennedy, when David Reutimann didn't get going as officials waved them off of pit road before the race. At the same time, Bobby Labonte's No. 47 inexplicably had an oil cooler/radiator problem and leaked oil on pit road, the cleanup of which delayed the start of the race. While this happened, No. 51 Jacques Villeneuve, whose presence in the race sparked discussions of his aggression, had to pit. The Phoenix Racing crew had the car on jack stands to repair the transmission and gear shifter. Villeneuve started the race, but exited early when the problem cropped up again. Kyle Busch, a Sonoma winner in 2008, got wrecked by Montoya and spun a time or two afterwards, finishing 35th. His teammate Denny Hamlin had yet another bad race, as he changed lanes in front of Tony Stewart and got the hook from the No. 14. Hamlin placed 23rd and the damage relegated Stewart to 28th. Jamie McMurray started on the pole, led two laps later on, but cut a tire and finished 25th. Brad Keselowski used pit strategy to lead seven laps, but inexplicably fell to 21st at the finish of the race. Pit strategy also put Joey Logano at the front for 10 laps and the No. 22 ended the day 10th. Four drivers started their first Cup race Sunday. Harraka (39th) and Kennedy (40th) failed to finish. No. 36 Victor Gonzalez Jr. got wrecked on a late restart and placed 37th. And Justin Marks, substituting for Dave Blaney in the No. 7 for Tommy Baldwin Racing, kept his nose clean and finished on the lead lap in 30th. Road course racing proved exciting yet again...and churned out a surprise winner.
140 Characters or Less: Truex Jr. unlikely Sonoma race winner, breaks 218-race winless streak. Kurt comes back big. Kyle has day from hell.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Martin Truex Jr. - Truex Jr. led the most laps, drove a heck of a race, and did not take himself out of contention like some other drivers did (see: Busch, Kurt). Driver No. 56 says that the wins will keep on coming, now that his team has broken through this glass ceiling. They also now sit in Chase contention at 10th in points.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Tony Stewart - Stewart halted his good momentum of late by wrecking Denny Hamlin and finishing 28th. Stewart used to be a constant threat at road courses, but has lost out on some wins in recent years by making mistakes. He certainly was a disappointment on my fantasy team this week.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Three-way tie - Casey Mears, Travis Kvapil, and Boris Said finished 16th-18th and hung in this stratus most of the day, occasionally popping up in the top 10. We'll give the nod to Said, whose FAS Lane Racing team has had a horrid year, but had a good run with a good road racer Sunday.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon - Both drivers recovered from penalties (though Gordon had no way to avoid his) to drive from outside the top 30 and into the top 5. Busch's was even more impressive, as he was a lap down after his green flag penalty.
Wheel of Misfortune: Bobby Labonte - Labonte just can't catch a break. This prompted his niece (Terry's daughter Kristy) to Tweet that she was about to cry when she saw him behind the wall before the race. The JTG-Daugherty Racing crew somehow for the No. 47 on track in time for the green flag, but Labonte pulled off track with a bum motor before even completing a lap. The crew obviously did what they could to get his car started and keep intact his 704-consecutive starts streak, which dates back to the 1993 Daytona 500. His last place finish Sunday was his 2nd-straight (crashed at Michigan last week), his first 43rd-place finish since 2010, and only the 5th of his career. A.J. Allmendinger is set to replace Labonte again at Kentucky next week and Phoenix Racing has Austin Dillon lined up for the No. 51 Chevy, so Labonte may not have a ride. With his streak and his pride on the line, you can't help but feel bad for the 2000 Cup champ.
Head Scratcher Crown of Thorns: That deal on pit road before the race - How do three drivers mix it up before the green flag? Seriously? Harraka nailed Kennedy when Reutimann didn't move, but the rookie should have been paying attention. Bunching up and wrecking on a restart at 60-plus mph is one thing - doing it on pit road at zero mph is another.
Ghost Driver: Ron Fellows - Fellows drove the Circle Sport Racing No. 33 this week and was solid, but never legitimately even cracked the top 10. Yes, the road course ringer's equipment was subpar, but road courses equalize teams' disparities. While Boris Said (driving equally lackluster equipment) drove a good portion of the laps in the top 10 or 15, Fellows never did and finished 22nd. Like Stewart, Fellows did not deliver for my fantasy team.
Georgia On My Mind: David Ragan is not a road course racing fiend by any stretch and continued that description with his 34th-place finish Sunday. He did get spun at one point in the race, but was never a top 30 threat anyway. Reed Sorenson is equally road-racing inept and retired early with chassis problems at Road America in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, placing 37th.
Nationwide 140 or Less: Allmendinger comeback complete with first NASCAR win. Max Papis makes slap heard around the world. Good to see different names up front.
Next: NASCAR's top three series hit Kentucky Speedway with night races this week.
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