June 2, 2021
NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350 Analysis
I had a quiet conversation with my conscience to start the week as I was setting up driver ratings for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, which is the third of seven road course races on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season
Toyota/Save Mart 350 Betting Resources
I remember in the mid-1990s when NASCAR die-hards poo-pooed the idea that two road course races a year were too many when there were only two road courses.
I would try to sell them on the idea of real racing across the world being done on courses and street circuits built to stress the drivers. I wonder how they feel about seven road courses on the schedule.
Chase Elliott is getting a lot of respect from oddsmakers this week as the top betting choice for Sunday's road race at Sonoma. (AP)
Handicapping NASCAR at Sonoma
Alright, enough complaining. We have sportsbooks offering odds on the race which means we have some business to take care of whether we like road courses or not. This isn’t about recreational fantasy leagues with no consequences if we lose, it’s about straight cash and I hate to lose so I work hard to ensure I don’t.
Let’s do a quick take on what has happened through the first 15 races where 11 different drivers have already won a race led by Joe Gibbs racing’s Martin Truex Jr. has three wins (all with 750 HP package).
Another JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, leads the series with points and nine top-fives but doesn’t have a win yet after having seven wins in 2020. Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch also have won under the JGR flag.
Kevin Harvick led the series with nine wins last season but doesn’t have any so far, although it looks like their 550 HP package will be their best chance. No top-fives in the eight races using the 750 package. Here’s to hoping we catch him at some point in the 14-to-1 range at one of the 1.5-mile tracks.
But the season has evolved with the elite teams getting better (Roush Fenway Racing, too) along the way. First, it was JGR doing the dominating, mostly in the 750 package, but Hendrick Motorsports has made it clear they are ready to take control as they’ve won the last three races on the season. They have two wins each for Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman and one each for Chase Elliott and William Byron.
Hendrick is the winningest organization in NASCAR Cup history with 269 wins following Larson’s Coca-Cola 600 win last week where for the fourth time in five races on 1.5-mile tracks he led the most laps.
Larson has finished second or better in his last four races and now goes to his home track in Sonoma. The Elk Grove native has never won on a road course in the Cup Series but does have a K&N Pro Series West win on it from 2014. He has some serious momentum coming into this weekend, where there will once again be no practices or qualifying (Larson already on pole) because it’s not a new track.
“Sonoma is a finesse track, but you still have to be aggressive,” said Larson who is 8-to-1 to win Sunday. “I’ve had a lot of success there with three poles but I seemed to struggle during the race, so I’m really looking forward to going there in Hendrick Motorsports equipment. Hendrick Motorsports’ road course program is really good, especially the 9 team. It seems like Chase Elliott has won every road course race the last four years.”
No on Larson’s Elliott insight, but he’s close. Elliott has six career road wins in 14 Cup starts on them and has won five of the last six, but none of them at Sonoma’s technical course, and Elliott knows he has some work to do to get better.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 Contenders
“Sonoma has been a place that I haven’t done a very good job at in the past, “Elliott said. “It’s been a pretty big challenge for me. It’s been a couple years since we’ve been there, so it’s been a while. When we were there in 2019, I felt like we were doing a great job and in a good position before we had our mechanical issue, so I’m looking forward to getting back and having another shot at it.”
Elliott has four Cup starts at Sonoma, but only one top-five and a 17.5 average finish, but it didn’t stop William Hill sportsbooks from posting Elliott as the 6-to-4 favorite -- why not just reduce it to 3-to-2 odds, William Hill. Elliott did win a 2016 K&N Pro Series West race to his credit.
There is little doubt that Elliott has grabbed the King of the Roads crown that once belonged to Truex, but Truex has three Sonoma wins, including the last two races run there. He’s only getting 3-to-1 odds to win from William Hill books, but I certainly think Truex is the better case to make using the 750 package on a track he knows better than Elliott.
I liked what Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels had to say regarding the difficulty ahead on getting the Sonoma set-up right after the track took 2020 off due to state COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us in that regard – from not having my own crew chief notes, and even our past notes at Hendrick Motorsports we have not been where we needed to be the last few trips there,” Daniels said. “Luckily, we have a great road course foundation from the 9 car (driven by Elliott) with their wins on road courses and what that package looks like. The magic is translating that to Sonoma. We have a new aero package since the last trip there, and we have a new tire this weekend so we have a lot of challenges, but our company has momentum right now and hopefully we can close the gap.”
Yes, after the year layoff, everyone is going to be in that same set-up dilemma which is why I like the driver who has been the best at the 2021 package (Truex, 3 wins) while also taking the driver who is the best at all the nooks and crannies of the 12-turn layout, which is also Truex.
Sonoma Value Drivers
Other Drivers to Consider
Joey Logano (16/1)
He has a 14th-place average finish in 11 Sonoma Cup starts, but he does have a 2011 K&N Pro Series West win at Sonoma. But none of that matters as much as his current form and how the 750 HP package has performed for him with six top-fives in eight starts. He was runner-up on the Daytona road course and third at the Austin road course after leading the most laps(14). I played two units on him and his payout will be my biggest score of the day on Sunday if he wins.
Kyle Busch (15/2)
He has four road course wins over his Cup career and also won the Busch Clash exhibition race at Daytona in February. But I made a bet on him based on what he’s doing lately and also how he led 12 laps before finishing 10th at the Austin road course two weeks ago.
Denny Hamlin (10/1)
He started the season with six straight top-fives using the 750 HP package, then he was seventh at Dover and 14th at the Austin road course. He’s become one of the better road racers for the last five seasons.
Ryan Blaney (18/1)
In 14 Cup starts on road courses he has a 13.5 average finish making him fourth-best among active drivers. His lone win on one came at the Charlotte Roval in 2018. His performance with the 750 HP package hasn’t been great -- no top-fives. He was a career-best third at Sonoma in 2019.
William Byron (12/1)
He has a 22nd-place average finish between two Cup starts at Sonoma, but Byron has grown up since the last time they raced at Sonoma in 2019. He’s got some wins and has been dominant at times no matter what race package NASCAR has used. He was 11th two weeks ago at the Austin road course.
Sonoma Longshots - Best Bets
Alex Bowman (25/1)
Both his 2021 wins have come using the 750 HP package at Richmond and Dover, which is good news for this week. He was eighth-place two weeks ago at the Austin road course and was 10th at the Daytona course. In his last two Sonoma starts since driving for Hendrick he was ninth in 2018 and 14th in 2019.
Christopher Bell (30/1)
This will be his first Cup race at Sonoma and he’s the same price to win as he was in February at the Daytona road course when he won. JGR power makes him worth dropping a few bucks on him as an investment.
Kurt Busch (50/1)
His best Sonoma run was a win in 2011 and he has six other top-fives among his 19 starts for a 13.58 average finish. He was fourth at the Daytona road course after leading two laps. He also won a 1999 K&N Pro Series Southwest race at Sonoma.
Toyota/Save Mart 350