1. Jeff Gordon – Jeff Gordon is a driver who you can feel confident about making your fantasy NASCAR pick to win the Sonoma Toyota / Save Mart 350. He’s the “King of Road Courses” and no driver has won more races on this track type then him. He has 9 career road course wins and five of them came here. This venue has historically been a great track for him. Minus the three races where he had problems (result in the 30’s) then he’s only finished outside the top ten once and it was in his first Sonoma start back in 1993 (finished 11th). His career average finish minus those particular races is 3.6. That’s pretty good in my book. This case could be made Sonoma is his best track. His top five finish percentage ranks 2nd to Martinsville and his top ten finish percentage ranks 2nd to Kentucky. Currently at Sonoma he has 8 consecutive top tens. Over this span of races he has 1 win, a 4.4 average finish and the 4th best driver rating. In 2013 Jeff Gordon had a great car at Sonoma and wheeled the 24 car home to a 2nd place finish. His 2nd place finish didn’t come easy. On lap 25 while he was running in 9th he got penalized for pitting too early under caution. That dropped him all the way back to 39th. In 2012 he finished 6th, had a 6th place average running position, led 13 laps and earned the 3rd best driver rating. He could’ve potentially finished better but around the mid-point while he was running in 2nd he ran out of gas under green. That dropped him back to about 15th. In 2011 at Sonoma he finished 2nd. His most recent Sonoma win was in 2006. This week his odds to win are listed at 6/1. One attribute you should like about Gordon is his momentum. Over the last three races he’s scored the 3rd most points. In practice this weekend Jeff Gordon looked very strong. He’s upbeat about his car and it’s good over long runs. Also during an interview he said that he has a car that’s capable of winning. On Sunday Gordon will start in 15th. He’s not concerned about that one bit because this will be a race of comers and goers.
2. Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick has been one of the best driver’s week in and week out this season. I don’t know why that trend can’t continue at Sonoma. I think he’s a skilled road course racer and he proved his mettle in 2006 when he out-dueled Tony Stewart for the win at Watkins Glen. At Sonoma Kevin Harvick has had some success. In three of the last four races he finished in the top ten. Over this four race stretch he has a 9.5 average finish, 14.0 average running position and the 8th best driver rating. Last season at Sonoma he finished 10th, had a 14th place average running position and earned the 14th best driver rating. In 2012 his race was anything but trouble free. Around lap #70 he ran out of gas while running near the top ten. That was a costly mistake which ultimately led to him getting lapped. Also a little later in the event after he got a “Lucky Dog” he lost several positions after Hamlin spun in turn #11 and he had to make evasive maneuvers. When the checkered flag waved he finished 16th. In his next two most recent races he’s come home with results of 9th and 3rd. In 2007 he had his best result and finished 2nd to hyper mileage driver Juan Pablo Montoya. This week his odds to win are listed at 7/1. In practice his car appeared to be one of the fastest over long runs. In practice #1 he had the best 10 lap average. In Happy Hour his crew chief told him he’s good over the long run and he logged consistent lap times. His Happy Hour ten lap average speed ranked as the second best. On Sunday Kevin Harvick will start in 6th.
Recommended Reading – Sonoma Post Practice Predictions (another fantasy post qualifying fantasy take), Qualifying Results / Starting Lineup, Happy Hour Speeds, Happy Hour Notes, Practice #1 Speeds, Practice #1 Notes, PROS Rankings, Scouting Report, Who will win the Sonoma Toyota / Save Mart 350, Odds To Win, Lap Around The Track With AJ Allmendinger
3. Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch will be a driver to be reckoned with in the Sonoma Toyota / Save Mart 350. In recent Sonoma races he’s been very strong and has driven with a determination second to none. Last year he looked extremely impressive and had a good chance to go to victory lane but he took himself out of contention with self-inflicted mistakes. In the race last year he started in 7th and on lap 19 he passed Marcos Ambrose for the lead. While he was out front he paced the field for 15 laps. His first self-inflicted mistake happened on lap 36. At that time he was running in 2nd but he got caught speeding on pit road. The following lap when he came in to serve his penalty he got busted again for speeding on pit road. The combination of those problems had him back in 38th, one lap down. Later in the race when he got the “Lucky Dog” he used some pit strategy and drove aggressively until the finish. When the checkered flag waved he finished 4th. In 2012 he had an injured car at the end but willed it to a 3rd place finish. In that race he started in 8th, had a 4th place average running position and earned the second best driver rating. If the late Green-White-Checker didn’t come out he would’ve finished second. In 2011 when he drove for Penske Racing he went to victory lane, had the best driver rating and led 76 laps. Now that Kurt Busch is no longer with underfunded teams imagine how good he could potentially be. One attribute you have to like about him entering the Sonoma Toyota / Save Mart 350 is that in recent weeks he’s shown improvement. Winning at Sonoma would be like a culmination. His odds to win are listed at 7-1. In practice he said that he has good initial speed but his fall off is more than he expected. In Happy Hour his team went in a completely different direction. In that practice he had the 2nd best 5 lap average speed. On Sunday Kurt Busch will start in 5th.