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Last Updated Jun 12, 2022, 4:32 PM

Toyota Save Mart 350 Picks, Predictions, Odds

The 16th race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season takes us to the west coast for the second of six road course events scheduled. Sonoma Raceway is the setting with a backdrop of vineyards, wine, and crackers. It’s time for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 with full access for the fans for the first time since the pandemic while also using the 12-turn 1.99-mile chute layout which bypasses turns 5 and 6. 

It’s one of my favorite tracks in NASCAR because I grew up in the Sacramento area for my first 10 years and was often in the Bay area getting drove through the vineyards often. I loved it, and still do crave the occasional drive in spring when all the hills are green. The Cup Series made its Sonoma debut in 1989 with a Ricky Rudd win (I couldn’t get action down on Rudd). 

I don’t know what it is about Sonoma that I like so much. There’s a happiness with the area that always makes me smile whether it’s remembering a day walk through San Francisco or my Mom, rest in peace, taking me to the beach at Bodega Bay often as a kid. 

TOYOTA SAVE MART 350 PICKS & PREDICTIONS

With the Sonoma layout, I think it’s the 160 feet of elevation changes throughout the circuit that first attracted me. Right and left turns made it tougher on some of the roundy-rounder NASCAR drivers. I liked that. There’s always bumping and banging. I liked that. Most of all, It just feels comfortable like home. I've lived in Las Vegas since 1980 and I never felt that way about Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

We’ve got all kinds of storylines to follow with 11 different winners in the first 15 races of the season and most of it all stems from the new NextGen car and the new 18 inch low-profile Goodyear tires. Just about everyone is equal now. The elite powers have been brought to their knees and they’re powerless to find some kind of creative engineering to make them faster as has been done forever in NASCAR.

One of the stories I’ll be paying close attention to is three-time Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. who BetMGM sportsbooks have posted at 9-to-1 to win. I’m interested in the story of his former crew chief Cole Pearn coming over for this race to be the car engineer for crew chief James Small. Pearn was running the show when Truex won at Sonoma in 2018 and 2019. Can Pearn make a difference? And what’s all this retirement talk about with Truex? Is it more about having no wins this season and knowing Xfinity Series driver TY Gibbs is going to need a Cup ride very soon. Someone has to go, who is it? Whatever the story may be, he’s the only active driver with three Sonoma wins.

“I love going there,” Truex said. “I love the racetrack, but this week is a huge question mark for everyone – new car, new tires, five gears instead of four, different brakes, and different everything. There’s a big question mark of if our old approach will still work there. Not just the way I drive the car, but how is the tire going to be and what will the falloff be? Do you still have to conserve tires or is it just going to be hammer down all day? A lot of things up in the air, but we’re doing everything we can to show up ready to go on Saturday for practice and qualifying and then the race on Sunday.”

(Getty)

TOYOTA SAVE MART 350 BETTING RESOURCES

  • Date: Sunday, June 12, 2022
  • Venue: Sonoma Raceway
  • Location: Sonoma, California
  • Distance: 218.9 miles
  • Laps: 110
  • Network-Time: FS1 - 4:00 p.m. ET

Dang, Truex has a lot of questions too. He had an edge with a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that is gone now. At COTA in March, the first road course race in the NextGen car, Truex finished seventh in what was a good race as I remember. There were 13 lead changes among nine drivers with Ross Chastain leading a race-high 31 laps and getting his first career Cup win. 

Kyle Larson started on the pole at Sonoma last season for the fourth straight time and then won for the first time on a road course. He’d later win at Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval and put together 10 wins on the season that concluded with a win at Phoenix and his first Cup Championship. But the new car has been tough on him. Just one win and six top-fives through 15 races along with a few flat tires mixed in. The NextGen car has the most skilled creative engineers in NASCAR, the Hendrick Motorsports gang, baffled about how to find more speed. Perhaps Sonoma can bring out the best in Larson again.  

"I’ve always had some good speed at Sonoma (Raceway) and it’s my home track,” Larson said. “It’s always fun to see my friends and family, and it was cool to get my first win at my home track last year. But that was with last year’s car and on the longer track. Hopefully, we can get another pole there this weekend, lead some laps and challenge for the win again."

Larson is BetMGM’s second favorite at 7-to-1 odds to win and because of all the NextGen stuff written above I have a hard time taking those type of low odds when so many other drivers can win. There have been 10 other drivers to win through 15 races and four of those drivers have two wins. Larson still has just one win and it came in second race of the season at Fontana.

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TOYOTA SAVE MART 350 BETTING ANALYSIS

t’s kind of the same situation I have with race favorite Chase Elliott at 9-to-2 odds. He’s always overpriced, but unlike most weeks, he can actually win the race. He’s the road racing king with seven wins on them and it’s an active situation. He had two wins last season and they both came on new road courses at Road America and COTA. He’s won seven of the last 15 road course races and averaged a 7.7 finish among his 20 road starts which are both the best among active drivers. His first road win was in 2018 at Watkins Glen. But in five Cup starts at Sonoma, he has no wins on the technical course.

"Sonoma (Raceway) has been a place that has been a pretty big challenge for me in the past,” Elliott said. “Last season, I felt like it was the best I’ve ever been there. We were pretty good late in the race and I was really proud of that effort by our NAPA team. With having one road course race down with this new car and having some learnings from COTA, I’m hopeful that we can put together another strong run like we did last year."

Elliott was runner-up to Larson last season after leading 13 laps. Still, no wins for a guy that has seven wins on road courses since 2018. That’s a big deal. Tony Stewart has eight wins on road courses and Jeff Gordon has nine wins, the two best in NASCAR history and this kid is likely to lap the two Hall-of-Famers this season with five more road races to go. Gordon won at Sonoma a record five times.

Just a thought, but do you think we have all these road courses on the Cup schedule because Elliott is so good on them? He’s the most popular driver, give him more chances to win, and give the people what they want. I hope that’s not the case, but the upper echelon of NASCAR is certainly capable of tilting the scales.

TOYOTA SAVE MART 350 CONTENDERS

My betting process with Elliott is to respect him, value him, bet him, but have him only as an insurance policy. I’ve bet him not to make any profit but to simply get all my race odds to win bets back if he wins. I’ve got a couple of dudes with higher odds that I’m liking as my feature wagers this week. 

Ross Chastain (10/1), Christopher Bell (18/1), and Tyler Reddick (18/1) are going to be my first stringers this week. They’re my star performers that get top billing in my wallet. A few reasons: Anyone can win. NextGen car is stifling elite teams. How about 11 winners in 15 races and two of those guys can be the 12th different winner. 

“Sonoma is one of my favorite road courses,” Bell said. “After last year, I’m excited to try the short course. It’s a really slick track which is what I like.”

Bell’s only Cup win came last season on the Daytona road course and was also runner-up at Road America. How about the new car though? In the only race using the NextGen car on a road course he was third at COTA. This dude is a playa, and he’s unnoticed by the robots making the odds. He’s slid under the radar somehow. You say 18-to-1, do you? Fine, thank you.

Same goes for Tyler Reddick who ended the 2021 road course season with a runner-up at the Charlotte Roval and then started the 2022 road campaign with a fifth-place at COTA. I love that he has the pressure of holding the 16th and final playoff spot by just 2-poinits over Kevin Harvick. How about you just win and stamp your ticket to the playoffs and cash an 18-to-1 ticket for me. Sounds like a plan.

And then there’s Ross Chastain flexing his muscles with two wins and a series-leading seven top-fives who controlled the COTA race. He went into Texas, laid down his badge and said there’s a new sheriff in town. No one was shaking in their boots, but when it was over he made believers out of us all. Maybe there is a new Sherriff. Then he won again, and top-five after top-five we’re slowly believing in him and his watermelons, and Trackhouse Racing. Caesars sportsbooks have him listed at 10-to-1.

(Getty)

I’ve thought a lot about Chastain getting a reality check by both Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlins last week at WWT Raceway who didn’t appreciate his aggressiveness. It his aggressive nature coupled with great Trackhouse cars that have put him on top of the leaderboard.    

I loved the way he took responsibility of his actions and took a lesson from a few veterans. But I think he’s back at work for the win this week too, which means more aggressive driving. The danger is him being punted, but it’s a risk I’m taking.

And just a few notes about last week’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway. I loved it all. Everything about it was a winner for me. But the Chastain-Hamlin deal was the best thing I saw all season in NASCAR. Hamlin applying justice the old fashioned way was an incredible scene. But it was the 1.25-mile flat track that produced such great racing and allowed drivers to achieve extra speed in their divebomb tactics entering the turns. If the damn tires didn’t blow up all the time, it would have been a perfect race. 

Or just possibly the tires blowing is exactly what NASCAR wants. It restarts the field, eliminates any edge a great car may have on the day. It allows for more drivers to win, it allows for more passing with the field running bumper to bumper. I hope that’s not the case, but I don’t see anyone from Goodyear doing anything special about this tire blowing phenomenon after 20 to 25 laps. NASCAR knows what’s going on and they appear willing to let tires blow on tracks of all speeds. NASCAR is pushing the boundaries of driver safety for better races? Nah, that can’t be true.

Be sure to check out the practice and qualifying on Saturday and adjust on the fly.

TOYOTA SAVE MART 350 TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION

  1. #9 Chase Elliott (9/2)
  2. #1 Ross Chastain (10/1)
  3. #8 Tyler Reddick (18/1)
  4. #20 Christopher Bell (18/1)
  5. #19 Martin Truex Jr. (9/1)

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