NASCAR's Biggest Surprises at Sonoma and Road America
The usual suspects to win at Sonoma failed to do so, but the race that ended with a green-white-checker finish produced some surprise performances and disappointments with the fight for coveted points.
It was a road-course weekend for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series, except they were about 2,000 miles apart.
Drivers who are in a must win situation to secure the wild-card slot for the Chase remained still in need to find Victory Lane.
The Nationwide race at Road America also had some unexpected events, so here are some highlights of both races.
Clint Bowyer Wins at Sonoma
Who would have thought a dirt track racer from Kansas would beat the road-course pros at Sonoma, but he did just that with his No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota out of Michael Waltrip Racing.
The other two MWR cars driven by Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 and Brian Vickers in the No. 55 both ran strong much of the race with Vickers finishing fourth. Truex ran into trouble and ended his day 22nd.
Bowyer had his hands full trying to out-maneuver Kurt Busch in the closing laps of the race. Tony Stewart then made a move on Busch and finished second. Busch took the third spot and Jimmie Johnson was fifth.
Kurt Busch Runs Strong
Kurt Busch was the defending winner of the Sonoma race and nearly backed up that win with his No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet.
He ran in the lead pack most of the race and gave Clint Bowyer several bumps just to let him know he was behind him. Early in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Busch moved the No. 22, his former ride, out of the way.
He had never raced at Road America and only made the qualifying laps to discover a transmission problem that required it to be swapped out.
Starting last, Busch drove the No. 54 to a top-five position, but the race ended with him in eighth position after another car made contact with the front of his car.
It was a busy weekend for the driver who has faced some tough situations of his own making, but he was cordial after the Nationwide race and a bit emotional when he addressed the media at Sonoma.
Perhaps we are seeing the competitive racer, one that entertains us with his ability as a wheelman, turn a corner with his behavior.
He raced Bowyer clean at Sonoma and drove a stellar race with lesser equipment than those who finished around him.
What Happened to the Hot Picks to Win?
The drivers who were expected to be contenders for the win at Sonoma, for the most part, failed to run in the lead pack when it counted.
Marcos Ambrose started on the pole next to Jeff Gordon, but the driver of the No. 9 finished eighth and Jeff Gordon finished sixth, though both led laps.
Juan Montoya was another expected to do well with his No. 42, but experienced electrical problems and ended his day in 34th position.
Tony Stewart finished best as runner-up to winner, Clint Bowyer. Stewart had an impressive run with his No. 14 Chevrolet that started the race 24th.
It Wasn't the Day for Points They Wanted
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was only four points out of the lead in the standings heading to the road course at Sonoma where he hoped to just finish in the top 10.
He was getting fairly close to his goal, but multi-car contact late in the race sent several cars off the pavement and dealt a blow to their finishing position.
Junior is third in the standings, 14 points out of the lead.
Denny Hamlin took a shot from teammate, Joey Logano and his 35th place finish dropped him three slots to eighth in the points. Martin Truex Jr. dropped two slots to ninth and without a win could be in trouble.
Carl Edwards continued to be a a non-contender for the Chase with his 21st place finish. He remains winless with 10 races until the Chase and 11th in the standings.
Danica Patrick Got Punted
Danica Patrick ran in the top five during most of the Nationwide race at Road America. She was looking to match her career best in NASCAR with another fourth place finish.
It was the final lap when Jacque Villeneueve got into her rear bumper and turned her into the gravel. She finished the race in 12th position after driving back on to the track. Villeneueve finished in the sixth slot.
Patrick qualified in the top 10, led the race for a short time and raced in the lead pack in an impressive manner. It was only her second start on a road-course with the Nationwide series.
Road-course races were her least favorite when she raced the IndyCar series, but she seems to have a grasp on wheeling her Chevrolet around the twists and turns of Road America.
Nelson Piquet Jr. started on the pole and won the race. Michael McDowell, Ron Fellows, Max Papis and Sam Hornish Jr. filled out the top five finishers.