With plenty of wine and whining on and off the track, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 26th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
Surprising: The winner of the race, his first ever at Sonoma and his second of the season, effectively locking him into the Chase, seemed surprisingly star-struck in Victory Lane.
“It means a lot to me,” Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, said. “And then the real special part to me was to stand in Victory Lane at Sonoma and have Jeff Gordon come and give me a handshake as the second place finisher means a lot.”
“I grew up watching Jeff Gordon and specifically watching how he drove this racetrack and all the successes he had here, so I mean, that’s really super,” Edwards continued. “It definitely meant a lot to have Jeff Gordon in my mirror.”
“It’s something I’ll never forget.”
With his victory, Edwards kept the consecutive new winner streak alive at Sonoma, being the eighth consecutive first time winner on that road course.
Not Surprising: As Edwards paid tribute to him, Jeff Gordon seemed to get a kick out of it, which he could afford to do after posting a runner up finish to Edwards, as well as maintaining the point standing lead.
“I’m starting to hear that a lot more,” Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet, said of Edwards comments about watching him race in his growing up years. “I hear things like he was born when I won my first championship or watching me as a kid.”
“You know what, I love racing here,” Gordon continued. “I love being competitive, leading the points and having a shot winning races 22 years into my Cup career.”
“We’re having fun.”
Gordon scored his 14th career top-5 finish at Sonoma and his 12th top-10 finish for the season. He is now 20 spots ahead of six-time champ and teammate Jimmie Johnson in the point standings.
Surprising: While Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s aggressiveness certainly played a role in this third place finish, he also credited his own road course education for helping to achieve his first ever top-10 finish at Sonoma.
“This is a real technical track where the corners are lined up one after the other, and if you make a mistake in Turn 2, you really don’t clean it up until Turn 4,” the driver of the No. 88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet said. “So everything sort of has to line up and that takes a certain mentality and a certain understanding of road course racing that guys like myself don’t have coming from late models and oval tracks and stuff like that.”
“You have to go to school,” Junior continued. “You have to study. You have to listen to people. You have to run as many laps as you can at practices and tests and stuff like that to adapt and understand. We were fast all weekend and just kind of put it together.”
“Aside from holding a trophy, this is like a win for us.”
Not Surprising: Kevin Harvick took to the California stage and starred yet again in his own version of ‘Groundhog Day’. On Lap 72, the driver of the No. 4 Outback / Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet entered his pit stall in the fourth position and promptly lost spots after another miscommunication with his over-the-wall team.
“We basically sat on the jack for about three seconds waiting on fuel and we didn’t need to,’’ Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief said. “Bad, bad miscommunication or decision on some of the pit crew member’s part.’’
After that bad pit stop, Harvick restarted further back in the field and then was collected in an accident to finish 20th.
“All in all, we got to get it together,’’ Childers said. “The pit crew has worked really hard to get their pit stops better. We got that better and now we’re doing stuff like we did to take us out of the win.”
“Everybody keeps saying that the pit crew is messing up,” Childers continued. “The pit crew is not actually messing up. We had a great pit stop, and we just sit there on the jack, waiting for the gas man to say it was full.”
“If we wouldn’t have sat there and waited, we would have beat (Jeff Gordon) off pit road and he almost won the race,’’ Childers said. “We had a way, way, way better car than (Gordon) did.’’
Surprising: Austin Dillon, not Kyle Larson, was the highest finishing rookie of the race. Dillon, in his iconic No. 3 Dow Chevrolet, finished 17th while Larson, in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished well behind in the 28th spot.
With that finish, Larson slipped from eighth to tenth in the point standings and Dillon also slipped one notch from 17th to 18th in points.
Not Surprising: Although Marcos Ambrose, known for his road course prowess, did not have the best of days, he echoed what many in the Ford camp were definitely thinking.
“I’ll take eighth,” Ambrose said after crossing the finish line in his No. 9 DeWalt Ford. “We came here with a strategy because we had the fastest car for a couple of laps, but it would fade away really bad. We came with a really soft package and I was hanging onto it all day, too.”
“We’re gonna keep working at this place to try and make ourselves better, but congratulations to Carl,” Ambrose continued. “He did a great job in the race and it’s great to see Ford back in Victory Lane.”
Surprising: Clint Bowyer was the highest finishing Toyota and he had to make an incredible comeback after a flat tire and on-track incident with Jamie McMurray to finish in the tenth position in his No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota.
We had a fast 5-hour ENERGY Camry this weekend,” Bowyer said. “We got ourselves in position and had a flat. It was going down and I was all over the place.”
“Jamie (McMurray) just kind of finished me up and got me out of the way, I guess,” Bowyer continued. “Bad luck, man.”
“The way our season has been, we’ve been the lap closer here lately and if they keep bringing cars like that to the race track, we’ll be just fine.”
Not Surprising: With her IndyCar experience, especially on the road courses, it was no surprise that Danica Patrick not only had a decent day at Sonoma but also scored her personal best with an 18th place finish.
“I think we kind of salvaged something there,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet said. “It would be good for a couple laps and then would just go away. We got lucky getting the Lucky Dog and then just pitted a couple of times for fresh tires and fuel and wound up 18th.”
“It’s not the best day, but I think we keep improving.”
It was Patrick’s best road course finish in the Sprint Cup as she bettered a 29th-place finish last year at Sonoma and a 20th-place result at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Surprising: Even Kasey Kahne, the only Hendrick driver who has struggled this season, got into the act at Sonoma, finishing sixth and ensuring that all Hendrick Motorsports drivers were in the top-10 when the checkered flag flew. And he did so in spite of some contact mid-race with Casey Mears.
The driver of the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet even finished higher than Jimmie Johnson, who came in seventh after starting 22nd in his Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Not Surprising: With NASCAR’s close association with those in uniform, it was not surprising that the sport paused to honor its five year association with the Armed Forces Foundation, particularly the Troops to the Track program, a year-round recreational group therapy program that honors service men and women, veterans and military families at races throughout the country.
“Troops to the Track presented by Bank of America showcases NASCAR’s commitment to our nation’s military and we are proud of our joint effort the past five years to serve the military,” Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundation, said. “Here at the Armed Forces Foundation, we constantly strive to ‘serve those who serve,’ and with the support from NASCAR and Bank of America, we will be able to provide more opportunities for service members and their families around the country to get away from the stresses of injuries and deployments while enjoying the patriotism of the NASCAR community.”