The Final Word – Sonoma, where even the winner wound up tied for third best in points

Stage points? We don’t need no stinkin’ stage points. Pit late, then say hello to my little friends. Fresh tires. Now, they proved to be the key to victory at Sonoma.

Sonoma is the most visually appealing track on the circuit. You would not want to walk it. Too damn many hills. When it comes to a little left, a lot of uphill, and a right…just to start with…you had something special going on in California wine country.

It was a special start for Kyle Larson after winning the pole. That dream went up in dust about four laps later when Martin Truex Jr. took the lead. Larson tumbled down the ladder to finish outside of the Top Ten.

Truex, now he was something special. So was Kevin Harvick. So was Clint Bowyer. So were Kyle and Kurt Busch. They were the boys up front for most of the opening stage. Then they gave it all up to pit, giving up the bonus ducats to ensure track position in the middle stanza. A.J. Allmendinger claimed the stage, followed by Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Chase Elliott. However, when they waved the green again, they were all sitting between 14th and 18th.

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By this time, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, and Kasey Kahne were not even among our best 30. They were soon joined by Allmendinger, as the road course ace blew the call and his transmission with a missed shift. About that time, Harvick took over the top spot from Truex, while Jamie McMurray hit the garage with oil pump issues. As we witnessed earlier, in the final laps of the segment, the best came in and the rest managed at least a few points for their efforts.

When the green waved again, Keselowski, Johnson, and Elliott all had 16 bonus points in the bank. None of our previous race winners this season, all six of them, had any. However, up front, there was Harvick, Truex, Bowyer, and them Busch boys. At least they all had power steering. That was more than Ryan Blaney had, as his hopes for even a Top Thirty got dashed.

With under 40 to go, it was time for a final pit stop. Atop the Truex pit box, Cole Pearn called for his boy to come in. Harvick’s team heard the call and beat him to the pits. By a lot. It would seem Pearn lied. He had changed his mind and kept Truex out. In fact, Harvick was in eight laps before the defending champion, who even had six lap fresher rubber than Bowyer. That proved to be the key move of the event.

Eight laps after pitting, Truex used the extra grip he had beneath him and moved past Bowyer into second. Just two circuits later, and Harvick was the next to fall. Those two ducked into the pits for even fresher tires, but now they needed a caution to bunch them all up. It was a caution that never came.

Truex won his third of the season, the 18th of his career, and his second on the track just outside of San Francisco. As for the runners-up, no harm, no foul. Harvick and Bowyer got back to where they started from before they made their bids for redemption.

Bonus points did play a role in making it a good day for a few. Elliott managed to cling to fourth and with bonus points, he had a race-best collection of 49 when it was over. Johnson picked up 42, Keselowski had 40, the same tally Truex got for his win. So, stage points really did matter, if you wanted them. The only impact on the charts after Sonoma saw Alex Bowman extend his hold on that final Chase place to 17 points up on Stenhouse. That was pretty much it.

Coming up is Chicago, a place with its own colorful history. There was Dean O’Banion and his lovely flower shop, and that was nice. At least it was until some had it renovated and its owner ventilated. Say it with flowers, they say. Another chap said it with his little friends and ruined a perfectly good St. Valentine’s Day. I think they would have preferred flowers before the fact rather than after.

As for Chicago this Sunday, they will want those stinkin’ stage points. Even those who are out to win.

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