A Look Back to Sonoma

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For years, NASCAR held two road course races each season. When Watkins Glen International returned to the schedule in 1986 following a three decade hiatus, it was paired with Riverside International Raceway for a few years until that track was replaced with Sonoma Raceway in 1989.

And until the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval came along in 2018, those were the only road course races on the calendar.

The two tracks are quite dissimilar. Sonoma is a technical course that requires hitting precise marks. Watkins Glen International is a high-speed track that allows drivers to attack the corners.

What they have in common is that the veterans have more laps on them than the new tracks that have come along. These are the tracks they believe are traditional and it is quite possible that they will behave similarly.


The Roval and the Daytona International Speedway’s road course are hybridizations that make them stand out, but with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, they were the only road course capable of holding a race in 2020.

The Texas Grand Prix was run on a permanent course, but persistent rain keeps it from being a strong comparative yet. The lessons learned from Road America are still being processed.

After the Toyota / Save Mart 350k at Sonoma, we questioned whether Chase Elliott was going to have a consistent rival in Kyle Larson.

Larson was the fourth-ranked driver in terms of odds and cashed in at 8/1 in that race. He was in the midst of an eight-week show of dominance that makes him the current favorite to win the championship – and we were uncertain whether it was momentum or road racing skill that secured the win.

Elliott was the prohibitive favorite at Sonoma with odds barely above 2/1. Because he lost that race, he had 100 points added to his odds before the Jockey Made in America 250 at Road America, but still had a minimal return of 3/1 – and was only profitable with his outright odds.

Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top three at Sonoma, but like Elliott, his odds of +380 were too low to drag his top-three, -five, or -10 odds to a profitable level.

The lesson from Sonoma was that oddsmakers got the numbers right because the race was predictable – and it was predictable because of the number of factors that three decades of racing add to the hopper. By comparison, the odds for the top three drivers at Road America were consistently long.

Take out the winner Elliott, and runner-up Christopher Bell was listed at 28/1 while third-place Kyle Busch was 12/1.

The value proposition for Sonoma came with several drivers who finished outside the top five. Kurt Busch finished sixth with outright-to-win odds of +6000. Ross Chastain was +9000, Alex Bowman +2500 and Ryan Blaney +2200. Those odds typically come with fairly attractive odds for top-10 finishes.

The average outright-to-win odds for the top-10 finishers at Sonoma was +2475. By comparison, Road America’s top-10 had outright odds averaging +4350.

If Road America proves to be predictive of permanent road courses and should be tossed into the statistical mix alongside Sonoma, the Glen, and hopefully a dry Circuit of the Americas one day, then the value proposition is heavily skewed toward top-10 results.

Of the top-10 finishers at Road America, only two had odds under 12/1. Chase Briscoe in sixth had +8000 odds, seventh-place Chastain was listed at +6600, eighth-place Tyler Reddick at +5000, and 10th-place Matt DiBenedetto had incredibly long odds of +15000 that drug his odds for a top-10 to a very attractive point.

The odds have not yet posted for the Go Bowling at the Glen, but it is certain Elliott will once again be a heavy favorite.

Another lesson learned from Sonoma was that the drivers who ran well in 2018 and 2019 before the COVID break managed to pick right up where they left off. After winning both of those races, Truex finished third this June. Ky. Busch extended a streak of top-seven finishes to six with his fifth-place finish, Denny Hamlin earned a fifth straight top-10, while Ku. Busch got his eighth top-10 in his last 10 Sonoma starts.

That suggests you will want to keep an eye on drivers with Watkins Glen streaks. For the most part they are the usual suspects we’ve come to expect at the front of the road course pack: Elliott, Truex, Hamlin, both Busch brothers, Larson, and Kevin Harvick.

But you may also find some attractive odds for Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, both of who have a pair of top-fives in three Watkins Glen starts.

Save Mart 350k

Finish

Start

Driver

PointsBet Odds

1

1

Kyle Larson

800

2

2

Chase Elliott

205

3

19

Martin Truex, Jr.

380

4

13

Joey Logano

1800

5

5

Kyle Busch

775

6

30

Kurt Busch

6000

7

29

Ross Chastain

9000

8

4

Denny Hamlin

1100

9

7

Alex Bowman

2500

10

11

Ryan Blaney

2200

11

18

Erik Jones

20000

12

16

Daniel Suarez

12500

13

6

Austin Dillon

20000

14

15

Bubba Wallace

30000

15

9

Brad Keselowski

3300

16

12

Chris Buescher

9000

17

25

Chase Briscoe

9000

18

22

Corey LaJoie

50000

19

10

Tyler Reddick

5000

20

23

Cole Custer

12500

21

27

Ryan Preece

40000

22

8

Kevin Harvick

1800

23

17

Matt DiBenedetto

10000

24

20

Christopher Bell

3000

25

32

James Davison

50000

26

35

Scott Heckert

50000

27

26

Aric Almirola

25000

28

21

Michael McDowell

8000

29

36

Josh Bilicki

50000

30

31

Ben Rhodes

50000

31

28

Anthony Alfredo

50000

32

34

Garrett Smithley

50000

33

24

Ryan Newman

25000

34

37

Cody Ware

50000

35

3

William Byron

1400

36

33

Quin Houff

50000

37

14

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

25000

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