NASCAR's New King of the Road, Hamlin's Chase Chances and Villeneuve's Cup Return

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Geoffrey Miller's Five Things to Watch at Sonoma

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<p> Geoffrey Miller highlights the five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota-SaveMart 350.</p>

1. NASCAR's new king of the road?
Remember back when you could basically predict a Jeff Gordon win at these road course events? Ah, those sure were easier times. But, alas, they've been gone for a long while.

Gordon hasn't won on the series’ two road courses since 2006 at Sonoma and 2001 at Watkins Glen. As a result, NASCAR has gone a while now without a resident "King of the Road."

For example, look no farther than Sonoma. Gordon's ’06 victory was the last for a driver who had previously won at the track. Since then, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer have been one-off and first-time Sonoma winners.

The story is a bit different at Sprint Cup's other road racetrack in Watkins Glen. Marcos Ambrose is a two-time defending winner there, and Tony Stewart has three wins at the New York track since 2004.

Should Ambrose win Sunday — his Richard Petty Motorsports team dedicated a test to Sonoma earlier in the season — it would mark three wins in the last four NASCAR road course races. It wouldn't quite match Gordon, but it'd put the V8 Supercars champion on a level pretty close in terms of road course dominance.


2. NASCAR finally decides to try something new in qualifying
If you've seen the attendance for NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying at mostly every track in the last few years, you've realized that, to many, the format has lost its luster. NASCAR has yet to make a substantial change to fix some of that lost excitement on ovals, but it is making a change effective for this weekend's road course events.

It's about time.

Saturday, the Sprint Cup teams will qualify for Sunday's race at Sonoma Raceway in a group format. The cars will be evenly split in the groups and placed together based on practice speeds in the final practice session held Friday. Each group will have a set amount of time to qualify, and a driver's best lap during the timed period counts as the qualifying speed.

However, we don't know quite yet how many groups will run or how long the groups will be on the track. NASCAR's April news release on the subject says the race director will make that call. The weekend schedule has roughly one hour and 40 minutes set aside for Saturday's qualifying.

The Nationwide Series will use the same setup this weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.
 

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