THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Toyota/Savemart 350 preview

Sonoma is known for its wine, but this week it will be home to NASCAR. Fred Faour/SportsMap

The Monster Energy Cup series returns from a one week hiatus as the drivers head for wine country in Sonoma, Calif., for the Toyota Savemart 350. Sonoma is one of the three road courses on the NASCAR schedule. The track is 2.52 miles in length and has 12 turns including a hill in the first three turns of the race track.

Sonoma has produced some of the best racing around, it’s not only a host for NASCAR but also for Indycar, IMSA sports cars and even NHRA. While the track is a two and a half mile road course, it has short track characteristics. Due to the tight spaces around the corners, There are plenty of places on the track where drivers have to knock each other out of the way to make a pass for position. Look for there to be a good chance for some angry drivers at some point during the race.

Last week Clint Bowyer went on to claim his second victory of the season for his first multi-win season since 2012. The race ended after one hundred and thirty three laps due to rain. On the final restart Bowyer was able to hold off his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. My prediction to win for this race was Kyle Larson. The day started out promising for him, he led 18 laps and consistently was one of the quickest cars on the track but on lap 87, Larson spun out in turn four costing him a chance at victory. As a result he finished 28th, a very disappointing result for the winner of the last three Michigan races.

One of the biggest surprises was Paul Menard and his fifth place finish. It has been a solid season for the Wisconsin driver as he scored his best finish of the season. Menard has steadily been creeping into the picture as a driver that can make the “playoffs.” He currently sits tied with Alex Bowman for the 16th and final spot. Menard is sort of NASCAR’s version of Josh McCown; he has driven for five teams over the course of his career including Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Richard Childress Racing. While he was able to earn a win at RCR in 2011 at the Brickyard, he hasn’t quite achieved the level of success that he would have hoped for but now, it seems like he has found a good home with the Wood Brothers. Menard currently has four top tens and a stage win at Talladega. Don’t be surprised if Menard is able to go to victory lane in 2018.

The favorite going into this race would be Martin Truex Jr. Last season Truex led a race high 25 laps before his Toyota engine let go on lap 86. Truex has always been quite the road racer as he was able to break a 232-race winless streak here in 2013 and has always been upfront when we go to Sonoma or Watkins Glen. While he has a 21st place average finish here, the results are not indicative of how well he has run and he could have at least two or three wins here if it weren’t for bad luck. It wouldn’t shock me if Truex and his crew go to victory lane on sunday.

My prediction to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Over the course of his storied career in NASCAR, Hamlin has not been known as a great road course racer, but over the course of the last few years, the results have got much better for him. He comes into this race with two top fives, 44 laps led and an average finish of third. This track has not always been kind to Hamlin. In 2016, he was one corner away from taking the victory until he was pushed aside by Tony Stewart. This would be the final victory for Stewart and his illustrious Hall of Fame worthy career. This year though I think it will be different and Hamlin will break through and get his first win of 2018.

The sleeper pick this week is A.J. Allmendinger. This season has been the season of misery for Allmendinger and team owner Brad Daugherty. They currently sit 23rd in points and have only two top 10 finishes but this week I expect for them to turn it around. Allmendinger grew up racing open-wheel Indy cars around tracks like Sonoma and has shown great promise on the road courses. He is highly regarded as NASCAR’s last true “Road Course Ringer” since Marcos Ambrose left. He captured his first and only victory at the other road course on the Schedule, Watkins Glen. I foresee Allmendinger and the 47 Krogers Chevrolet to be out front and possibly a threat to win on Sunday.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

 

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After the Mariners came alive late in Monday's series opener to hand the Houston the loss and keep their playoff picture hanging in the balance, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday to try and decrease their magic number. Here's how the middle game went:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 1.

Record: 28-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Casey Sadler (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Both teams trade first-inning runs

The Astros struck first in Tuesday's game, not waiting around until the ninth inning to get on the board. Instead, they jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead after a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker in the top of the first. The Mariners responded quickly, though, getting a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning before a two-out RBI-double of their own to tie it 1-1.

Astros score five in the sixth

The 1-1 score held all the way until the top of the sixth when the Astros would flip the script from the night prior, taking advantage of some mistakes by Seattle to put up a big inning. First, Michael Brantley started the inning with a solo go-ahead homer to make it 2-1. Then, Kyle Tucker would get his third hit of the night with one out before eventually scoring after a walk and two wild pitches, making it 3-2. With two walks to keep the inning alive and put some insurance runs on base, Martin Maldonado took advantage with a big three-run home run to extend the lead to 6-1.

Valdez finishes seven strong, Astros even series

After allowing the one run in the bottom of the first, Framber Valdez recovered and put together a solid outing on the mound. He allowed just five hits total, two of which came in the first, then back-to-back singles in the fourth and a single in the fifth, while otherwise keeping the Mariners at bay. He would end up completing seven innings of one-run baseball while striking out eight. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 108 P.

After Valdez, Enoli Paredes would take over in the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff single to get a scoreless inning to keep it 6-1. In the non-save situation, Josh James would come in for the bottom of the ninth and finish off the win for Houston.

Up Next: The finale and rubber game of this three-game set will start a bit earlier on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 5:40 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35 ERA) for the Mariners going against Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90 ERA) for the Astros.

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