Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM

Best Bets - Sonoma

Be sure to follow on Twitter @TwitVI for the latest NASCAR updates and trends. Daniel E. Dobish, two-time FSWA Racing Writer of the Year, can be followed on Twitter at danieledobish.

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.

After a week off, the MENCS heads to Sonoma Raceway for the first road course of the season, the Toyota Save-Mart 350 on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET. Each of the manufacturers have won in the past three stops at Sonoma, although Chevrolet has just one victory in the past eight years at the track, and two wins in the past 12. Toyota leads the way with four wins in the past seven Sonoma races.

Ganassic driver Kyle Larson (40/1) starts from the pole for the third consecutive time at Sonoma, as there is just something about qualifying on the road course which seems to agree with him. However, the favorable starting spot hasn't translated into success on the track, as Larson doesn't show up in the Top 10 in terms of Driver Rating over the past five Sonoma races, according to NASCAR's Loop Data. In the past three races he has finished 12th, 26th and 14th, tumbling down the leaderboard. In his five career starts at Sonoma, he has a 19.0 Average-Finish Position (AFP) with just 11 laps led after posting a 2.8 Average Start.

Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron (100/1) is another driver who has been qualifying well lately, and he will go off from the outside of Row 1 next to Larson. However, he managed a 25th-place finish in his Cup debut at the track last season, so that should give bettors some pause. Perhaps the better Hendrick option is Chase Elliott (11/2), and Vegas appears to agree. He has the third-best odds, likely due in part to his 11.0 AFP in three-career Cup starts at Sears Point. He was 21st in his debut in 2016, but improved to eighth in 2017 and fourth last season. Could we see another improvement and Top 5 finish this season? It's a good bet.

 Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. (17/4) was the winning driver last season at this race, starting from the second position in a race featuring just three cautions for eight laps. He averaged a speed of 82.882 mph, the fastest race at this track since June 2012, and the second-fastest pace in the history of the race. He lurks from the eighth position to start. His teammate Kyle Busch (6/1) starts alongside him on the inside of Row 3. He ranks fifth among all drivers with a 98.8 Driver Rating with 22 laps led over the past five starts. MTJ checks in with a 102.8 Driver Rating during the same span while leading a circuit-best 87 laps. Busch has back-to-back fifth-place finishes at the track, and four straight top-10 runs, including the win in 2015.

JGR's Denny Hamlin (14/1) is sixth over the past five starts at Sonoma in terms of Driver Rating (90.4), despite running just 62.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He has led 48 laps during the five-race span, and he has a respectable 18.7 AFP over 13 career starts with 96 laps led. While he has never finished first at this road course, he has been second as recently as 2016, and he has three consecutive top-10 showings. Teammate Erik Jones (40/1) has been a quick study in his first two Cup starts at Sonoma, posting finishes of 25th in 2017, with an improvement to seventh last season. He goes off from the 32nd starting spot, however, and the eventual race winner has come from the 14th starting spot or better in each of the past 10 races. The last time the race winner came from 32nd place was when Juan Pablo Montoya won this race back in June 2007 in a Penske Dodge.

Speaking of Penske, Joey Logano (10/1) goes off from the third position after a qualifying speed of 95.618 mph. He has never won at this track, but he has been awfully close. In 10 Cup starts he has two top-5 finishes, four top-10 runs and nine of his 10 starts have resulted in finished of 20th or better for an AFP of 13.4, fifth-best among all active drivers with at least five career starts. Brad Keselowski (18/1) is also searching for his first-career win on the California road course. He has led 24 laps over his nine Cup starts, posting a 16.7 AFP with one Top 5. Keselowski goes off 22nd on Sunday. Penske third-wheel Ryan Blaney (28/1) has a starting spot at ninth, but he hasn't done much in his three career starts at Sonoma, posting an AFP of 22.0 AFP with no laps led.

Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (6/1) leads all drivers with a 10.1 AFP in his 13 Cup starts, winning once with eight top-5 finishes and 82 laps led. He is eighth over the past five starts at the road course in terms of Driver Rating, but remember, he spent a few years in inferior equipment before transitioning to the SHR team. Daniel Suarez (100/1) has finished a respectable 16th and 15th in his two Cup starts. He ran well in practice on Friday, and qualified well, too, as he goes off fifth on Sunday. He is the top SHR car, with Bowyer going off from the 14th spot.

Don't forget about SHR's Kevin Harvick (7/2), listed as the race favorite, by the way. He didn't qualify well, as he starts from the 23rd position, but Loop Data shows him with a 115.2 Driver Rating over the past five starts, best among all drivers, while running 85.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 with 85 laps led. All-time he has a 13.1 AFP in 18 Cup runs at the track, winning once with half of his finishes resulting in top-10 showings. Seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (25/1) continues to limp along with a career-long race win drought, but Vegas is paying the California native some mind this week. J.J. has 17 Cup starts with a win, four top-5 finishes and nine top-10 showings for a 12.4 AFP. His 103.2 Driver Rating over the past five starts ranks him third, and he leads all drivers with 86.6 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15 during the five-race span.

Dark horse drivers include Chris Buescher (100/1), who goes off 10th, and Michael McDowell (100/1), who starts 13th.

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