Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma

·4 min read

For the second time this season, NASCAR Cup drivers will race on a road course this weekend.

Sunday’s race will be 218.9 miles (110 laps) over the 11-turn, 1.99-mile course at Sonoma Raceway.

The Cup tour’s annual visit to the San Francisco area was canceled because of the pandemic in 2020, and last year’s race was contested before a limited audience.

Ross Chastain muscled his way to the lead two laps from the finish to win at Circuit of the Americas in March, the season’s first road course event. The victory was Chastain’s breakthrough first win in Cup.

Chastain will be among several drivers worth keeping an eye on in Sunday’s race (4 p.m. ET, FS1).

FRONT RUNNERS

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd

  • Last three races: 7th — Kansas; 15th — Charlotte; 8th — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: 7th in 2021

Chastain is the man of the moment, and not necessarily in a positive way. He bumped Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott is last week’s race at Gateway, resulting in on-track retaliation from both. For his part, Hamlin has promised some measure of revenge on an occasion when Chastain might least expect it.

Chastain won the season’s only road course race to date, displaying some aggressive driving to take the win at COTA in March. He has been up front consistently, leading 426 laps in the past 13 races.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 7th

  • Last three races: 2nd — Kansas; 9th — Charlotte; 12th — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: Won Cup race in 2021

Anytime NASCAR hits the road, Larson is a threat. He won last year’s race at Sonoma and has won three of the past six road course races. Although winless since the second race of the season, Larson figures to be strong at Sonoma, where he has led a total of 68 laps over the past four races.

Larson leads all active drivers in Sonoma poles with three.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st

  • Last three races: 29th — Kansas; 33rd — Charlotte; 21st — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: Finished 2nd in 2021

Elliott will be looking to rebound at Sonoma after a down month. He has three straight finishes of 21st or worse after scoring five top 10s in a row. The series point leader finished second at Sonoma last year and has three finishes of eighth or better in the past four races there. Sonoma and the Indianapolis road courses are the only road course tracks remaining on Elliott’s “wish” list for road wins.

Elliott has won seven of the past 15 Cup road races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 30th

  • Last three races: 14th — Kansas; 30th — Charlotte; 20th — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: Best finish is 3rd in 2017

Keselowski’s uphill struggle to make the Cup playoffs continues, and this weekend won’t be much help if the past is an indicator. The veteran driver has never won in 32 Cup road races, and he has seven consecutive finishes of 13th or worse on road courses.

Keselowski’s season has been difficult since he scored a ninth-place finish in the season opener at Daytona. He’s looking for his first top 10 since then.

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 20th

  • Last three races: 33rd — Kansas; 25th — Charlotte; 23rd — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: Best finish of 12th in 2021

Pressure continues to build on Suarez to land his first win as teammate Ross Chastain has scored two this season. Sonoma will be a test as his best finish there is a 12th in 2021. He has never led a lap on the course. Additionally, Suarez’s season is trending to the down side. In the past 13 races, he has only three top-10 runs.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 2nd

  • Last three races: 3rd — Kansas; 2nd — Charlotte; 2nd — Gateway

  • Past at Sonoma: Won in 2008 and 2015

Uncharacteristically, Busch has been passed for the win in the final two laps in the past two races – at Charlotte and Gateway. Those laps are likely to be on his mind as he rolls into Sonoma, one of his better tracks. He won there in 2008 and 2015 and has six straight finishes of seventh or better. He has led laps in five of the past six races at Sonoma.

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Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma originally appeared on NBCSports.com