The NASCAR Cup Series heads to California for the first time in two years this weekend with the running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. The winding, 12-turn road course had been part of the Cup schedule since 1989 until the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation one year ago.
The virus also caused races at Auto Club Speedway to get wiped off the calendar, leaving a gaping hole for NASCAR fans in the Golden State. Thankfully, as the pandemic recedes, the track has opened at 33 percent capacity so people will be able to see their favorite drivers in person. It's the third of a record-setting seven road courses on the schedule, a 2.52-mile facility defined by its tricky final turn and short, 90-lap stint that results in one of the quickest races all year.
After a few weeks of on-track qualifying, NASCAR has reverted back to its off-track formula for setting the starting lineup. The first laps drivers will take on this track will be during the race on Sunday; their qualifying position has been predetermined based on the metric below.
50% of the metric is their finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric is the team's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric is their fastest lap during the previous race.
The team with the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc. until all available spots are filled. It's the best compromise NASCAR could make while attempting to limit each team's at-track time and respecting COVID-19 restrictions still in place.
Only 37 cars entered the race at Sonoma, leaving the 40-car grid three short. It's tied for the smallest field of the season, as only the 36 teams who have guaranteed spots are entered along with the "open" car of JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece, No. 37).
1. Kyle Larson
2. Chase Elliott
3. William Byron
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kyle Busch
6. Austin Dillon
7. Alex Bowman
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Tyler Reddick
11. Ryan Blaney
12. Chris Buescher
13. Joey Logano
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
15. Bubba Wallace
16. Daniel Suarez
17. Matt DiBenedetto
18. Erik Jones
19. Martin Truex Jr.
20. Christopher Bell
21. Michael McDowell
22. Corey LaJoie
23. Cole Custer
24. Ryan Newman
25. Chase Briscoe (R)
26. Aric Almirola
27. Ryan Preece
28. Anthony Alfredo (R)
29. Ross Chastain
30. Kurt Busch
31. Ben Rhodes (i)
32. James Davison
33. Quin Houff
34. Garrett Smithley (i)
35. Scott Heckert
36. Josh Bilicki
37. Cody Ware (i)
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kyle Larson (pole) starts up front for the second straight Cup race. The top Chevrolet driver will lead the field to green at Sonoma for a record-setting fourth time in seven starts.
- Chase Elliott (2nd) won the last road course race at Circuit of the Americas last month. The reigning NASCAR champion is seeking his sixth win in his last seven road course starts.
- William Byron (3rd) has never won a road course race in Cup.
- Denny Hamlin (4th) is the highest-qualifying Toyota and the current point leader. He’s also the only driver within the Big 3 teams of Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing not to win in 2021.
- Kevin Harvick (8th) is the highest-qualifying Ford.
- Chris Buescher (12th) is the driver holding the last spot in NASCAR’s 16-driver playoff field. His margin sits at 55 over Matt DiBenedetto (starting 17th).
- Martin Truex Jr. (19th) won the last Sonoma Cup race in 2019.
- Chase Briscoe (25th) is the highest-qualifying rookie.
- Ben Rhodes (31st) is making his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend for Spire Motorsports in their No. 77, replacing Justin Haley. Rhodes has won twice this season in the Camping World Truck Series and is second in the standings behind John Hunter Nemechek.
- Scott Heckert (35th) makes his second start of the season for Live Fast Motorsports. Heckert is running a limited schedule of road courses for the team.
- Garrett Smithley (34th) and Cody Ware (37th) switched car numbers this week for Rick Ware Racing. Smithley will drive the No. 53 while Ware is back in the No. 51.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350
Track: Sonoma Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.)
Date: Sunday, June 6
TV: FS1, 4 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 90 laps (226.8 miles)
Stage 1: 20 Laps
Stage 2: 20 Laps
Final Stage: 50 Laps
NASCAR Xfinity Series underdog Brandon Brown reflects on the best start of his NASCAR career before host Davey Segal and company turn their attention to the Cup Series and Sonoma Raceway this weekend.
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site Frontstretch.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.