The culture of stock car racing is not known to attract a real wine and cheese crowd. At most racetracks, drivers and their crews are much happier and more comfortable celebrating a win or a nice run with a cold can of beer than anything more high-brow. But as ubiquitous as cans of Busch, Miller, or Coors may be in NASCAR, there is one place where those are happily traded in for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel.
The NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual trip out west to Northern California's wine country this weekend, stopping at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. One of NASCAR's major "destination" races, Sonoma has been a mainstay on the Cup calendar since 1989, and this 12-turn, 1.9-mile road course marks the beginning of an important stretch of races as NASCAR's regular season heads into the summer months.
How to watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Sonoma
- Date: Sun., Jun. 11
- Location: Sonoma Raceway -- Sonoma, Calif.
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- TV: Fox
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to watch
- Since a greater amount of road races were added to the Cup Series schedule beginning in 2021, Sonoma presents an important benchmark as the regular season enters its pivotal summer stretch. This weekend marks the first of four road course races that will take place from June to August. Sonoma will be followed by NASCAR's first street course race at Chicago in July, and then the Cup Series will visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen in the leadup to the regular season finale at Daytona in August.
For NASCAR's especially skilled road racers, the four upcoming road races present drivers like A.J. Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, and Michael McDowell perhaps their best chance to win a race, as all have extensive backgrounds in road racing that have carried over into Cup.
That being said, running well and winning on road courses is no longer the exclusive domain of road course ringers. Three of the last five road course races have been won by Tyler Reddick, including the first road race of the year at Circuit of the Americas in March. Kyle Larson has four road course wins since 2021 -- including Sonoma in his championship season -- and Christopher Bell has won twice on road courses. Then, there's Chase Elliott, back this week after being suspended for Gateway, who has seven road course wins in his career.
- Last year, Daniel Suarez capitalized on his team's strong road course program, leading 47 of 110 laps on his way to his first career victory. This year's return to Sonoma is well-timed for Suarez, and also much needed.
After a career year in 2022 that saw him earn six top fives and 13 top 10s on his way to a 10th place finish in the Cup standings, Suarez's 2023 season has gone cold after a start that saw him earn three top 10 finishes in a row including a fourth-place run at Fontana. Last weekend, a seventh place finish at Gateway gave Suarez just his second top 10 finish since March, and his first since Talladega back in April.
This weekend in Sonoma also marks one year since Trackhouse Racing's last win, despite both Suarez and Ross Chastain making it one of NASCAR's most competitive and relevant teams. The Sonoma area is an important one to Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks, who grew up in nearby Menlo Park, Calif.
- If there is any overarching message right now from NASCAR to its competitors, it is that the beatings will continue until morale improves, and For Legacy Motor Club, that takes on more meanings than just one.
Earlier this week, Legacy Motor Club team NASCAR came down hard on for making illegal modifications to the Next Gen car, as the No. 43 team was caught with modifications to the greenhouse area at Gateway. The team was assessed an L1-level penalty, with driver Erik Jones and his team being docked 60 driver/owner points and five playoff points. Crew chief Dave Elenz has been fined $75,000 and suspended for the next two weeks.
As if that and the team's overall performance this season wasn't bad enough, things got even worse on Thursday. After taking a hard hit to the driver's side in a crash at Gateway, Legacy Motor Club announced that Noah Gragson would be sidelined for Sonoma due to concussion-like symptoms. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Grant Enfinger will make his Cup debut, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet in Gragson's place.
Pick to win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Kyle Larson (+500): With his win last weekend at Gateway, Kyle Busch seemed to put his stamp as the top driver in Cup this season alongside William Byron, who he now shares three wins apiece with. The next driver seemingly fit to join that category is Kyle Larson, who has two wins this season and also won the All-Star Race just a few short weeks ago at North Wilkesboro.
A native of Elk Grove, Calif., Larson has excelled at Sonoma since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Larson dominated by leading 57 of 92 laps to win in 2021, and last year he won the pole and led 26 laps before a pit road miscue leading to a loose wheel ruined his chances. Assuming that raw skill and speed determines Sunday's race, it's difficult to bet against Larson solidifying himself as Byron and Busch's equal in the win column.