The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Sonoma, California, this week for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take a break from high-speed oval race tracks to take on the 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. If you have never been to a race in Napa Valley, it should be on your bucket list. It's a beautiful part of the country and a great place to watch a race.
Races at Sonoma usually come down to fuel millage and the race in 2013 was no different.
Marcos Ambrose took the early lead and led 18 laps. Kurt Busch then took the lead and showed why he is one of the best road-course drivers in the series. He has finished three consecutive races at Sonoma in the top five. Martin Truex Jr. took the lead on Lap 83 and was able to save fuel to beat Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag.
Road-course racing used to be a nightmare for many NASCAR drivers, but that is no longer the case. Most of the drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have had some success at a road-course race. Nine different drivers have won the last 10 races at Sonoma. The only driver to win twice in the last 10 years is Jeff Gordon (2004 and 2006).
The race this week will be different for the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game. There will be two practices Friday before your lineup must be set Saturday morning. It will be important to check the practice speeds to see which teams have the fast cars this season, before you set your final lineup.
Racing for the Win
1. Kurt Busch: Sonoma has been one of Busch’s best race tracks and he is my pick to visit Victory Lane Sunday. He was able to finish in the top five in the last two seasons while driving for Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing. Busch should be able to finish first with Hendrick Motorsports' power behind him. Look for Busch to get his second win of the 2014 season this week.
2. Jeff Gordon: Gordon has been great at Sonoma in his career. Gordon has five wins and finished 17 of his 21 starts at the race track in the top 10. He has not won at Sonoma since 2006, but this has been a special year for Gordon. He will chase Busch to the checkered flag Sunday.
3. Jimmie Johnson: When people think of elite road-course drivers, Johnson’s name is not the first that comes to mind. He should be in the conversation, though. Johnson only has one win at Sonoma, but he has finished seven of his 12 starts in the top 10. He is on a hot streak now, winning three of the last four races.
4. Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose should be on every fantasy team this week. He is much better on the road course at Watkins Glen, but he is still a top-five driver at Sonoma. Ambrose has finished five of his six starts at the race track in the top five. He will be looking for his first win at Sonoma this week.
5. Tony Stewart: Stewart desperately needs a victory to secure his place in the Chase. This will be one of the best chances Stewart will have to see Victory Lane before the Chase begins. Stewart has two wins and has finished nine of his 15 starts in the top 10. He is a good pick for your fantasy team Sunday.
6. Kevin Harvick: Harvick has not been the best road-course driver throughout his career, but he has had some success at Sonoma. He has finished three of the last four races in the top 10. Rodney Childers, the crew chief of the No. 4 team came over from Michael Waltrip Racing. He should be able to provide Harvick a car capable of competing for a top-10 spot this week.
7. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer should be the driver to beat at Sonoma. He has a series-best driver rating and a series-best average finishing position in the last four races at the race track. In any other season, I would have Bowyer at the top of my rankings, but Bowyer has not shown that he can run up front this season. He is still good enough for a top-10 finish, though.
8. Carl Edwards: Edwards is a decent road-course racer, although there are better race tracks for his services. Edwards started third and finished third in last year’s race at Sonoma. He probably will not compete for the win, but a top-10 finish should be obtainable for the No. 99 team Sunday.
9. Brian Vickers: Vickers is a great sleeper pick this week. Michael Waltrip Racing usually performs well at Sonoma and Vickers has been their best driver this season. Martin Truex Jr. surprised people by going to Victory Lane in a Michael Waltrip Racing car last season at Sonoma. Do not be surprised to see Vickers up front this week.
10. A.J. Allmendinger: If you were ever going to use Allmendinger on your team, this is the week to do it. Allmendinger is a former Champ Car World Series standout. He is at home on road courses. Allmendinger is a great pick to sneak inside the top 10 Sunday.
11. Kasey Kahne: Kahne won the 2009 race at Sonoma. He has had some success at the track, but he is better at qualifying than he is at racing in traffic. Kahne has started six of his 10 starts inside the top 10. He only turned three of those six starts into top-10 finishes. See where Kahne qualifies for the race before you select him for your team.
12. Martin Truex Jr.: Truex should be much higher on this list. He is a very good road-course racer and is the defending champion of this race. If he was still racing for Michael Waltrip Racing, he would be listed in the top five. His skills will allow him to maneuver his Furniture Row Racing Chevy into the top 15.
13. Joey Logano: Logano struggled on road courses early on in his career. He seems to have figured it out, though, as many other drivers have. Logano has finished the last three races in the top 11. He is a risky selection this week in fantasy games which limit the number of times you can use a driver during the season because Logano is so good at other race tracks. If you participate in one of these types of leagues, save Logano for the intermediate race tracks.
14. Ryan Newman: Newman is not a popular driver when it comes to road-course fantasy teams, but people should start to take note of his skills on this type of track. Newman has finished seven of his twelve races at Sonoma in the top 15. He has only finished one race outside of the top 20. He is a safe pick this week, but do not expect a top-five finish from him.
15. Greg Biffle: Biffle can hold his own at Sonoma. He has never won a race at the track, but he has finished five of his 11 starts in the top 10. Biffle will not race up front, but when the checkered flag is waved, he will find his way to the top 15.
16. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is much better at Watkins Glen than he is at Sonoma. He has three consecutive second-place finishes at Watkins Glen, but the best he's done at Sonoma is 10th. Keselowski is too valuable at other race tracks to take a chance with this week.
17. Kyle Busch: Busch has always been hit or miss at Sonoma. He has dominated some races and has been the first car off the track in others. If Joe Gibbs Racing can provide Busch the right car, he could easily dominate this race. Busch is experiencing some bad luck right now, though. Unless he shows blazing-fast speed in practice, you should choose another driver this week.
18. Jamie McMurray: McMurray has had a lot of success qualifying at Sonoma, but not much during the race. McMurray has qualified on the front row in four of his 11 races. He was only able to finish one of those races in the top 10. If you choose McMurray this week, use him for bonus points for qualifying only. Do not expect him to finish up front.
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It's no secret that Earnhardt is not a fan of road-course racing. He has never finished in the top 10 at Sonoma, and it's doubtful his first top-10 finish will come this week.
20. Denny Hamlin: This is not the week to take Hamlin. He has not finished in the top 20 at Sonoma since 2009, and he will struggle again this week.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is much better at turning left all day than he is at navigating road courses. He only has one top-10 finish at Sonoma and that was probably a fluke. Save Kenseth for the intermediate race tracks.
22. Casey Mears: Do not forget about Mears this week. He won't be a top-10 driver, but if you are looking for a good value pick, go with Mears. He has six top-20 finishes in his 10 career starts at Sonoma, and should come close to cracking the top 20 this week.
23. Kyle Larson: The question of the week is how will Larson fair in his first road-course race? Larson has been surprising fans all season long, but in the Nationwide Series last season, he finished seventh at Road America and No. 30 at Watkins Glen. Do not expect him to run up front this week.
24. David Gilliland: Gilliland is a deep sleeper pick this week. He will not win the race, but he has had some success at Sonoma. Gilliland has finished six of his eight starts at the race track in the top 25 (including a second-place finish in 2008). He would be a great value pick for Fantasy Live.
25. Boris Said: There was a time when fantasy teams would be loaded with road-course ringers. Those days are over. Said is the only road-course ringer worth selecting for your team. He has finished eight of his 14 starts at Sonoma in the top 20, including five finishes in the top-10. He is a good pick this week.
26. Paul Menard: Menard isn't great on road courses. He has never finished in the top 10 at Sonoma and he has only one top-15 finish. Menard will be another driver in the way of the elite drivers this week.
27. Danica Patrick: Last year’s race at Sonoma was Patrick’s first race at the track. She started No. 29 and finished No. 31. She should improve this week, but not by much.
28. Aric Almirola: Almirola has an average starting position of 34.1 and an average finishing position of 25.3 at Sonoma. That is not the type of statistic you want from your driver this week.
29. Austin Dillon: Dillon has competed in four road-course races in the Nationwide Series. He only had one finish in the top 10. There is no reason to believe Dillon will run up front Sunday.
30. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is probably not happy to be racing at a road course this week. Last year he started No. 37 and finished No. 27 in this race. He has struggled this year and may not finish as well as he did in his rookie season.
Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon
Group B: Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger
Group C: Boris Said, Justin Allgaier
Fantasy Live Picks
Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Boris Said
Fox Fantasy NASCAR Picks
Captain: Jeff Gordon
Driver 2: Marcos Ambrose
Driver 3: Tony Stewart
Driver 4: Kurt Busch
Driver 5: A.J. Allmendinger
For further advice on your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
If you like Fantasy NASCAR, like my Fantasy NASCAR Tips Page on Facebook