Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma
Sonoma Raceway is one of only two road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule, meaning it's about as good of a chance as any for a dark-horse driver to shake up the running order at the end of the race. Turning left and right can lead to a ton of surprises, including when Kansas native Clint Bowyer won the first road course race of his career last year.
Crown Martin Truex Jr. the latest surprise road course winner.
The second Michael Waltrip Racing driver in a row to win in wine country, Truex ended a losing streak of over half a decade on Sunday by crossing the line first. He dominated the end of the event, pulling away from the rest of the pack to score an authoritative victory and set himself up to make moves down the stretch.
But not every driver was as fortunate as Truex on Sunday. Here are the folks who had standout weekends, for better or worse.
Winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Truex's lengthy losing streak—218 races, in fact, since his first career Sprint Cup win at Dover in June 2007—has been well-documented. He had made two Chases and finished second a total of six times since his lone Cup victory.
Wipe the losing streak blank.
The New Jersey native last pitted on Lap 69 of 110, stretching his fuel to the end in a dominant performance that saw him lead more than twice as many laps as any other driver. After coming into the weekend 13th in points, the victory will go a long way towards a second consecutive Chase appearance; he now ranks 10th.
Loser: Juan Montoya
Pitting on Lap 69 worked for eventual winner Truex, but Montoya's luck (and fuel) ran out on the very last lap. He fell from the top five, spending much of the race's late stages running in second, all the way to 34th.
Worse, Montoya decided to cut the hairpin after running out of fuel at the end of the race. It didn't do much to affect his finishing position, as he would have been 33rd before NASCAR penalized him, but it still looks pretty bad.
There will come a day when Kyle Larson is ready for Sprint Cup, and when it comes, it may be at Montoya's expense. It's clear that he can't dominate in these cars as he did in CART and Formula One years ago.
Winner: Kurt Busch
One of these days, Furniture Row Racing is going to put together the perfect race, and Kurt Busch will return to victory lane.
Two pit road speeding penalties were all that separated the No. 78 team from making Sunday's run that bit of perfection.
Busch came all the way back regardless of the mental errors, getting back into the top five at race's end. He passed Marcos Ambrose with authority in the race's final laps to gain the fourth position. Had it not been for the two penalties, he likely would have run away from the field the same way that Truex did.
Loser: Kyle Busch
Thirty-fifth place isn't exactly where former Sonoma winner Busch expects to end up on the first road course of the year, but that's what happened on Sunday.
Why? A pair of incidents, including being spun by Carl Edwards in a high-speed section, and not braking hard enough into Turn 4 to induce another spin. He fell from sixth to eighth in points after the rough day.
Winner: Michael Waltrip Racing
It may not have flexed the muscles that put two cars in the Chase yet, but Sonoma was strong proof that Michael Waltrip's three-car organization is just as strong as it was last year.
Not only did Martin Truex Jr. break a six-year winless drought, teammate Clint Bowyer also added a fifth-place finish and Brian Vickers finished 13th despite not even stepping into the car until Sunday and starting from the back.
Both Bowyer and Truex are now in the top 10 in points, setting up for MWR's second consecutive year of putting two cars in the Chase.
Loser: Jacques Villeneuve
Many were afraid of Villeneuve's participation in Sunday's Cup race because of his propensity for bending up sheet metal in limited NASCAR participation so far.
Perhaps Villeneuve should have been more afraid of his car itself.
The list of woes on the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet included, but was likely not limited to, being stuck in second gear, a dead battery and a jammed starter.
For the first time in a long time, Phoenix looked like what their car suggests they are—an underfunded and underprepared team—instead of being the best car in the garage that should have sponsorship but doesn't.
Winner: Drivers Making Their Sprint Cup Debuts
Four drivers landed the first ride of their Cup careers on Sunday, with Justin Marks, Victor Gonzalez Jr., Alex Kennedy and Paulie Harraka all making it to the big time for the very first time.
All four had spent significant time in lower stock car levels before making it to Cup, including a combined 33 Nationwide starts and 60 appearances in the Camping World Truck Series. Marks may have been the most successful, winning an ARCA event in 2010.
Loser: Drivers Making Their Sprint Cup Debuts
Sure, Sonoma may have been a great opportunity to break into NASCAR's highest level, but that doesn't mean drivers were able to do anything with it.
Gonzalez crashed on his qualifying lap, leading to a 42nd-place start and a backup car. He then suffered damage on a Lap 71 restart.
Harraka's woes began early, including hitting Kennedy on pit road before the race even started and a spin off track, and his No. 52 car ran without any front-end sheet metal for the majority of the race.
Kennedy's day ended on Lap 32 with an incident as well.
Marks topped the four newcomers with a 30th-place finish.
Winner: A.J. Allmendinger
The strangest year-and-a-half for any driver in professional motorsports took a turn for the better this weekend, as Allmendinger led 29 of 55 laps and won his first Nationwide start in five years at Road America.
Better still, he did it behind the wheel of a Penske Racing car with the No. 22, a slice of redemption after last year's failed drug test.
He'll get an opportunity to reestablish himself in the Cup later this year as well. After making a handful of starts for Phoenix Racing earlier in the year, JTG Daugherty Racing tapped him to drive their No. 47 Toyota at Pocono. After finishing 19th, JTG will run Allmendinger in four more races this year in what is likely an audition for 2014.
Loser: Bobby Labonte
Once again, Labonte's consecutive start streak—perhaps the only thing remaining in his Cup career of any significance—is in jeopardy with the announcement that A.J. Allmendinger will replace Labonte in four races later this season.
Though Phoenix Racing is always an option, as it was in Pocono, owner James Finch's desire to shut that team down later this season suggests that he may have to go further to hunt down a ride for those four events.
Oh, and to add insult to injury? Labonte's engine crapped out on Lap 1 at Sonoma, stranding him on the track until a caution was called. He finished 43rd.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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