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Chase Hopefuls Look to Extend Sonoma’s New Winner Streak

Road course racing features some of the most exciting competition on the schedule and the renewed interest over the last few years has led to additional thrills and opportunities for drivers.

Placing focus on the two road racing events each season at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International provides a chance for teams to secure a win and spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. While this is a newly added incentive to reach Victory Lane in Northern California, the course has seen many different competitors claim the checkered flag in years past.

Among them are names that you wouldn’t expect to run well in road races such as; @ClintBowyer, @MartinTruex_Jr, and Carl Edwards. These competitors have no road racing backgrounds and excel on the oval tracks. However, seeing them reach the winners circle demonstrated the importance of this style of racing and its crucial role each season.

Eight drivers have secured their first Sonoma victories in the last eight years. Also, the facility hasn’t seen a repeat winner since @JeffGordonWeb won in 2006 for the fifth time. Why has there been such a variation with those crossing the finish line first? The technicality of the course and wild card nature of the event opens the door for new names to contend.

Whether a driver can brake less entering a corner or take a different line; competitors are often able to find additional speed that can lead to victory. Doing this throughout the race is what it takes to win. Perfection is required as one mistake often hurts a driver’s day.

“Sonoma is definitely a finesse racetrack,” according to @AJDinger. “You hear it from the first lap you put on the racetrack to the last lap when the checkered flag falls, everybody talks about forward drive and not burning the rear tires off. It’s all about finesse,” he noted, explaining how technical the track is.

Managing equipment is also an important factor as using up the car has its drawbacks. While drivers would like to get ahead at the beginning, the better strategy is often to pace themselves as they climb through the field.

Combining these aspects along with the gameplay used makes it one of the true wild card events on the schedule.

Some competitors view this race as their best shot at earning a win that clinches them a Chase berth. They believe taking chances now will pay off down the road, and in other wild card events if they aren’t able to seal the deal on Sunday.

Whether a team that is hoping to pull off the surprise victory or one that is looking to add another win to their season claims victory – the course’s streak will likely continue. Who could add their name to the impressive list of drivers? @JamieMcMurray, @KevinHarvick, and A.J. Allmendinger are among the favorites to do so this weekend.

McMurray has shown speed at the facility over the last two years including capturing two consecutive poles. He continues to demonstrate that he’s a threat and could taste the wine in Victory Lane in the near future. The No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet team finished fourth in 2014 and will use that strong run as motivation to improve this season.

This is one of the team’s best opportunities to secure a spot in the playoffs. “I feel like we have really been working well together as a team and this would be a great weekend to work our way into the Chase,” the 2010 Daytona 500 champion said. His optimism and past success provide the crew with the confidence needed to battle for the victory.

It may come as a surprise to some that Harvick has yet to win at the raceway. However, he has come close before. Three top-five and five top-10 finishes are to his name, and the experience he holds will play into his favor. The No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet team is fast when they unload at each track and this week should be no different.

While the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is not looking for his first win of the season, he hasn’t tasted the champagne in nearly fourth months. His drive to reach glory again could extend the course’s streak.

Allmendinger has emerged as a road racing ace over the last few years. His motorsports background involves this style of competition which has aided his recent success. Among his triumphs include winning two NASCAR XFINITY Series road course races in 2013, earning his first Sprint Cup Series victory in Watkins Glen last season and having a competitive car in Sonoma last June.

He started last year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the outside of the front row and led 35 laps. However, he would crash later in the race, finishing 37th. The speed that the No. 47 Kingsford Charcoal Chevrolet team showed then should translate to this weekend as he looks at this event as one of his two best shots at becoming one of the Challenger 16.

Sonoma is the perfect place for a driver to steal a victory and reserve a spot in the Chase. Its wild card nature has led to the current streak of eight first-time winners. This is expected to continue over the weekend as a win could change the outlook of a driver’s season.

Road course competition has shown its unpredictability as of late which should keep expectations high for Sunday. It’s anyone’s game, and this should provide for a thrilling race.

Jason Schultz is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

By Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz aspires to enter the public relations field of NASCAR. Schultz, 19, attends UNC Charlotte and is a communication studies major with a focus in public relations. In addition to contributing to POPULAR SPEED, Schultz produces podcasts for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Dirty Mo Radio. He also completed a semester as a social media intern at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year, he volunteers as the social media correspondent for Autism Delaware's Drive for Autism golf tournament featuring NASCAR personalities and the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover.

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