Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:03 AM
Best Bets - Sonoma
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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS is back after a week off, moving to the Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota Save Mart 350, the first of three road course stops this season. This weekend's race goes off at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (9/2) , Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (9/2) and Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. (9/2) are each listed as the co-favorites for Sunday's race. Of the trio, Harvick might have the upper hand lately. In the past five races at the California road course Happy has posted a 106.0 Driver Rating according to NASCAR's Loop Data, second-best during the span behind SHR's Kurt Busch (8/1) . The elder Busch brother leads the pack with a 107.0 Driver Rating over the past five starts at Sonoma. Harvick has really put it together over his past three outings at the road course, posting a fourth-place showing in June 2015, a sixth-place finish in 2016 and a win at this race last season. In 17 career starts at Sonoma he has eight Top 10s, 13 Top 20s and no DNFs, posting 60 laps led and a respectable 13.8 Average-Finish Position (AFP).
Kyle Busch has had mixed results at the track over the years. He has made 13 starts at Sonoma, toasting in the Victory Lane twice while leading 110 total laps, third-most among all active drivers. Like Harvick, his most impressive string has come over his past three outings at the track, rolling to a win in June 2015, while finishing seventh and fifth over his past two starts at Sonoma. In fact, his 4.3 AFP is even better than the 6.3 AFP his older brother has managed over the same three-race stretch. Kurt Busch has been more consistent over the long haul, however, finishing 12th or better in seven straight Sonoma starts, while ticking off four Top 5s and six Top 10s during the span.
As mentioned, MTJ is among the favorites at the first road course stop of the season. It has been hit or miss for him over the years at this particular stop, however. Even in his championship season of 2017 he finished a dismal 37th, and he is just two seasons removed from a 42nd-place showing in 2015. He has been 22nd or worse in five of his past nine Sonoma starts, posting a very ordinary 21.0 AFP in 12 career stops at the track. He has just three Top 10 finishes to his name and he has bombed out of three races, or 25 percent of his starts, with a DNF. As such, he is a very risky bet and DFS selection for this weekend.
Everyone keeps waiting for seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson (22/1) to piece things together and get himself back into the hunt for the Chase. A win in his home state of California would secure a spot as he tries for an eighth series title, but he has looked far from championship form so far this season. Across the past five Sonoma starts he has posted a 104.4 Driver Rating, according to NASCAR's Loop Data, and only Kurt Busch and Harvick have done better. Johnson has a 9.6 AFP during the solid stretch, and he has been 15th or better in each of his past 10 stops at this road course, winning in 2010. He slipped back to 13th in each of the past two years, but the No. 48 is not to be discounted on the road course. In 16 career Sonoma starts he has a 12.5 AFP, third-best among all active drivers.
Speaking of which, if you're looking for a sleeper, SHR's Clint Bowyer (15/2) or Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman (75/1) certainly fit the bill, especially the latter. Bowyer is actually among the favorites to win, but most casual fans and fantasy players still might overlook him since he ranks just 10th in Driver Rating over the past five Sonoma starts. He has run just 55.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, but remember he was in inferior equipment for a good chunk of those outings. A 40th-place nightmare in 2016 also skews his averages, as he has been 10th or better in eight of his past 10 Sonoma starts, including a runner-up finish last season. Newman, a.k.a. The Rocket Man, slipped back to 15th last season, but he has been 18th or better in nine of his past 10 starts at this track. He has never won at Sonoma in 16 career tries, but he has two Top 5s, seven Top 10s and his 12.5 AFP is second-best among all active drivers only behind Bowyer's 10.7.
Penske Racing's Joey Logano (10/1) is another driver searching for his first-career win on the California road course, although he has come awfully close in the past. The driver of the No. 22 Ford has managed two Top 5s, four Top 10s and eight Top 20s in nine career starts while checking in with a 12.8 AFP. He has led the pack for 18 laps, too. His temmate Brad Keselowski (22/1) hasn't been as good on this road course, posting just one Top 5 in eight starts with a marginal 17.1 AFP. He had led 24 laps at the track, but he has tumbled out of the Top 20 on three occasions, including a DNF in 2010.
Leavine Family Racing's Kasey Kahne (75/1) is another underdog who could get a little attention this weekend. In fact, his best chance to sneak into the Chase might be Sunday. He has four Top 10 finishes in four of his past five Sonoma starts, ranking sixth among all drivers with a 90.6 Driver Rating. Of course, that production came in a Hendrick Chevy and not in lesser equipment. However, he still has a vast knowledge of the road course and that will help him make up for the gap in technology. In 14 career starts at Sonoma he has a win, two Top 5s, six Top 10s and 41 laps led with a 17.9 AFP.
Another driver to remember who isn't on one of the top teams would be JTG Daugherty Racing's A.J. Allmendinger (12/1) . In fact, Vegas is paying attention by giving him short odds to win, and the veteran could be a fly in the ointment for some of the bigger names still trying to secure their spot in the Chase. Dinger is 35th or worse in three of his past four Sonoma starts, although he has been a solid road course driver over the years. Perhaps a better sleeper choice for his prowess at Watkins Glen, he shouldn't be discountered here. He has led 60 laps in nine career starts, although he has just five Top 20s to show for his effort. His best Sonoma finish came in 2009, a seventh-place showing.
Other drivers to watch include
Chase Elliott (30/1)
, Ryan Blaney (22/1), Jamie McMurray(30/1) and Paul Menard (60/1). Elliott has just two starts at the track in a Cup car, but he improved from 21st in his 2016 debut to eighth last season. Blaney also has two starts under his belt, going from 23rd in '16 to ninth a season ago. Jamie Mac has a length history, finishing in the Top 20 in nine of his past 10 starts, including 10th last year. Menard has been right in the mix in each of the past four years, going fifth, 13th, 16th and 11th. In 10 career starts he has a respectable 15.9, better than MTJ, Allmendinger and several others.
Bigger name guys who have had difficulty at Sonoma include Denny Hamlin (10/1)and Ryan Larson (25/1). Hamlin is listed among the favorites for Sunday, but the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota has been 23rd or worse in six of his past 10 Sonoma tries. He might have figured it out over the past two seasons, going 2nd and 4th, but there has been more disappointment than success over the years. Larson has tapped into the knowledge of Bowyer, seeking help from the veteran. Larson hasn't fired on all cylinders in his brief encounters at Sonoma, going 28th, 15th, 12th and 26th in four Cup tries.