Surprising and Not Surprising: Sonoma Toyota Save Mart 350By Mary Jo Buchanan
Under unexpected cloudy skies and even some rain drops, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 25th annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
Surprising: Martin Truex Jr. was in surprisingly esteemed company with his 218-race winless streak, the second longest in the Cup Series to Bill Elliott’s 226-race winless streak.
But Truex managed to avoid that number one winless record spot by grabbing the brass ring on the road course, attaining his second career victory, his first at Sonoma, and his first of the season.
And according to the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, the win marks the beginning of the new winning Truex.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Truex said in Victory Lane. “I have so many people to thank who have stuck with me.”
“The team is just phenomenal,” Truex continued. “It feels damn good to get one finally.”
“Today was just our day and our time,” Truex said. “Our car was flawless.”
“We’re going to get a bunch of them now, I can tell you that much.”
Not Surprising: The remainder of the MWR Race team also had a good day at the race track, with Clint Bowyer, defending Sonoma winner, finishing fifth in his No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota and Brian Vickers, fresh off his sixth place Nationwide finish at Road America, finishing 13th in the No. 55 RKMotorsCharlotte.com Toyota.
“We had a fast car all weekend long,” Bowyer said. “We got close but we pitted and nobody came with us.”
“A long time coming for Martin and happy to see him in Victory Lane.”
MWR driver Vickers may not have had quite the finish he wanted but he got something even more important, a ringing endorsement from his team owner Michael Waltrip after the race.
“We want Brian Vickers to be a part of this organization in the future,” Waltrip said after the race. “He’s our guy.”
“We’re trying to put the pieces together.”
Surprising: Jeff Gordon, who had an eventful day of having to overcome a pitting too early penalty, also achieved a surprising record of his own.
This was the Gordon’s 302nd career top-five finish, breaking the tie he had for third with Hall of Fame driver David Pearson.
“This is one of those crazy types of races where pit strategy goes all over the place and you never know what might happen,” the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet said. “The way things have been going on the track for me haven’t been great and they way things have been going with the calls haven’t been going his (crew chief Alan Gustafson’s) way either.”
“But wow, we finally had a race car that was fantastic,” Gordon continued. “We had a lot of fun out there.”
This was Gordon’s 17th top-10 finish in 21 races at Sonoma.
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards started where he finished, third and third, in his No. 99 Aflac Ford. This was his fourth top-10 finish in nine races at Sonoma and he was officially the highest finishing Ford in the race.
“I would have liked to have made a couple spots up,” Edwards said. “It feels weird to race that hard all day and finish in the same spot you started.”
“That’s the true story,” Edwards continued. “It was a pretty dynamic race.”
“Eventually we will win one of these races.”
Even with his third place start and finish, Edwards remains in the second place in the point standings, 25 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Surprising: Kurt Busch was, by his own admission, surprisingly fast both on and off the track. He endured not one but two pit road speeding penalties , and in spite of that managed to claw his way back to the fourth finishing position in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing/Sealy Chevrolet.
“Yeah, we were fast, even on pit road, twice,” Busch said. “I messed up, flat out.”
“I didn’t hit my tachometer right and I was speeding both times,” Busch continued. “I just put myself in a position that was poor trying to get too much on pit road.”
“But man this Furniture Row Chevy was fast.”
Not Surprising: Juan Pablo Montoya had a fast race car but that was not quite enough to finish the Sonoma race. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet needed some additional gas in his vehicle, running out on the last lap and dropping from the front of the field to a 34th place finish.
“It’s just heartbreak,” Montoya said. “Our Target Chevy was really good today.”
“You’ve got to defend them in the way they do the fuel calculations,” Montoya continued. “It should have been a little smarter.”
“We’ve got tools to prevent things like that from happening.”
Surprising: Kyle Busch, who finished 35th in his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota after contact with both Montoya and Edwards sent him spinning, took to Twitter to battle those who were criticizing him.
His first tweet of “Awww. My heart melts for @jpmontoya who ran out of gas. Only thing I got for Carl is “aww crap,” sent the tweet war off and running with some of his followers.
After a few barbs back and forth, however, Busch showed his more jovial side, ending the Twitter visit with “Brought to u in part by mms. LOL” in response to this tweet @queers4gears: Does @KyleBusch’s twitter feed come with popcorn? #Entertainment.
Not Surprising: Most likely the two most disappointed drivers at Sonoma were those that started on the front row. Jamie McMurray had a great pole run only to finish 25th due to a flat tire and damage, while Marcos Ambrose, who had tested at Sonoma and qualified on the outside pole, salvaged a seventh place finish.
“It’s OK,” the driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford said. “We got a top-10 out of it.”
“The weather cooled down and lot and we just didn’t anticipate that when we set the car up,” Ambrose continued. “Of course I wanted to win but that’s the way it goes.”
Surprising: There were two surprising engine issues right at the start in the race. Bobby Labonte, in the No. 47 Kingsford Toyota, did not even make a lap before his engine expired.
Joining him was Jacques Villeneuve, who made it to Lap 19 before having his No. 51 Tag Heuer Avant-Garde Eyewear Chevrolet pushed into the garage with gear and engine woes.
Not Surprising: While Danica Patrick supposed that she was comfortable at Sonoma in that she at least knew where the ladies’ restrooms were, she finished a very uncomfortable 29th in her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet.
“It was a long day – a long weekend,” Patrick said. “We just couldn’t get the car to the point where I was comfortable with it.”
“Having the cut tire and going into the tire barrier was just sort of salt in the wound,” Patrick continued. “Hopefully we have a better weekend next week at Kentucky.”
Surprising: Rookie Paulie Harraka, attempting his first Cup start in his No. 52 Hasa Pool Products Ford, had a surprisingly difficult start to the race, wrecking as the cars went out on track for the pace laps.
“I don’t know what to say except that stuff happens,” Harraka said. “Somebody two cars ahead of me decided to stop in the go lane and why he did that I have absolutely no idea, but these cars don’t stop very well on the wet asphalt.”
“Sometimes crazy stuff happens.”
Not Surprising: While Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not have scored a top-ten finish, he was still smiling after Sonoma with a 12th place finish at a road course which admittedly is not his forte.
“It was a pretty good day,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet said. “This is definitely my worst race track, my least favorite track.”
“We will take a top-15 here any week.”