NASCAR heads to Wine Country at Sonoma

The driver that I have winning this week is Chase Elliott. Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.

For the first time in two years, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Wine Country at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. This is truly a step in the right direction as NASCAR and the world continues to try to get back to normal after this pandemic. For many in California, this will be their first experience at a sporting event in quite some time as it was announced earlier this year that they will allow fans to attend. They will also be running on a much different track layout and will bring back the carousel section around turn five. This section of the track will be interesting considering the massive elevation change we see from turns four and five. This will be a brand-new obstacle to the drivers considering no one has competed on this layout of racetrack.

Last week, Kyle Larson annihilated the field en route to his second victory of 2021. He led over three hundred laps and was never really challenged at any point of the race. This was a promising sign for Larson considering the hard time he has had at finishing races. If he can continue this, he is going to easily be the favorite to win the championship going to Phoenix. Whether it's been at road courses, intermediates or short tracks he has run exceptionally fast everywhere he has raced at. Look out for the #5 to continue to set the tone for the season.

The rumor mill is getting wilder and wilder as we get into the summer. The latest rumor involves Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin's new team 23XI and their expansion to two teams next season. While there have been many candidates that have been linked to this ride, it was reported that NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch has been listed as the favorite. This really surprised a lot of people considering Kurt is the eldest driver in the field, but overall I think this would be a genius move. Kurt is an accomplished veteran who can offer a lot of great insight for Bubba Wallace and can give a lot of great feedback to the team. It will be interesting to see how this all works and what kind of team they put behind Busch and who his crew chief may be. The other question will be who Chip Ganassi puts in the #1 car next season. Will he go with a veteran like Ryan Newman who can help Ross Chastain, or will he go younger and get a prospect driver like Josh Berry or Noah Gragson? Only time will tell. I look forward to seeing how this story develops.

A driver who has really flown under the radar over the last couple of weeks has been Tyler Reddick. He has finished in the top ten in back to back weeks, including a surprising eight place finish at Circuit of the Americas where he won the pole. There were a lot of eyes on the second year driver after an impressive rookie season, but now he is really building off of that and can be a contender to not only make the playoffs but win a race as well. Look for him to be a threat to go to victory lane this season.

The driver that I have winning this week is Chase Elliott. When your nickname is the King of the Road, it's hard to bet against someone who has six road course victories. Now Sonoma hasn't been a track that Elliott has accumulated a lot of success at but with a front row starting spot come Sunday, he will have plenty of track position to help him out. Plus, he drives for the hottest race team in NASCAR as well, so that definitely helps out. I look for Elliott to capture his second win of the season and his seventh road course victory.

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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