Races at Michigan have a history of being fuel-milage races and it was a fuel-milage race on Sunday. After everyone had pitted for gas late in the race, the lead had cycled back around to Jimmie Johnson and Johnson held on for his first win at Michigan. Kevin Harvick dominated the afternoon, but was on the wrong pit strategy and had to settle for second. Now Johnson only has four tracks left that he has yet to conquer. This was the third win of the season for Johnson, which leads all drivers on the year.
Now the series heads west to the Napa Valley of California to the Sonoma Raceway for the first of two road course races on the schedule. Sonoma Raceway was formerly known as Sears Point International Raceway and opened in 1968. NASCAR didn’t start running at Sears Point until 1989 with Ricky Rudd taking the inaugural checkered flag. Rudd had to hold off Rusty Wallace in the final laps. Wallace’s chance to win ended with three laps left when Rudd ran him off the track into the sandpit. Wallace would avenge his 1989 finish in 1990 by winning the second race at Sonoma. It was Wallace’s fifth road course win in the last seven starts.
The 1991 and 2010 races ended with controversy. In 1991, Ricky Rudd was trying to become the first repeat winner at Sonoma and crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR intervened. Rudd spun Davey Allison with just over a lap to go and beat Allison to the line by four seconds. NASCAR disallowed Rudd’s final lap and penalized him five seconds, dropping Rudd to second and allowing Allison to go to Victory Lane.
In 2010, Marcos Ambrose dominated the day and had the lead under a late-race caution. However Ambrose was trying to save fuel and he attempted to save fuel under the caution. While doing so, Ambrose committed one of the biggest mental blunders ever. Ambrose unexplainably shut the engine off while negotiating turn one, which is an uphill turn to the left. The car stopped rolling and Ambrose lost several positions while he attempted to restart his car. Ambrose’s crew pleaded with race officials to allow Ambrose return to the lead, but NASCAR declared that since he didn’t maintain pace, he would restart where he was running. Ambrose couldn’t recover from his mistake and Jimmie Johnson took advantage to score his first career road course win and checked Sonoma off his list of tracks he hadn’t won at yet to that point.
Defending Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. made it back-to-back wins for Michael Waltrip Racing at Sonoma last year as he claimed his first career road course win and his lone win of 2013. At the time, it looked like that would be enough to get Truex a wild-card berth for the Chase and it was until NASCAR decided that Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the results at Richmond before the Chase was set and removed Truex from the Chase field.
Most wins among active drivers: Jeff Gordon (5)
Prediction: Sonoma is one of the wild-card tracks coming up that a driver could come out of the blue and steal a win and possibly lock up a Chase berth. It’s only one of two road courses so drivers who excel on the road courses have this circled on their calendar as a chance to pick up a win. One of those drivers is Marcos Ambrose. His only career wins have come at Watkins Glen, but he has been strong at Sonoma. He just hasn’t had the luck to win here but I think that changes on Sunday and Ambrose will be in Victory Lane with a Chase berth locked up.