California’s Sonoma Raceway celebrated it’s 50th anniversary with a myriad of weekend events that included the return of “the Carousel,” the retirement of a legend, and a race that secured Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota Camry place as the best car on this year’s circuit.
The last “boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing!” rang out from televisions across the United States as Hall of Fame driver Darrel Waltrip announced the last race of his 19 years in a Fox Sports broadcasting booth and unlike his first time behind the mic, the infamous 2001 Daytona 500, his final race was as calm as NASCAR comes as not single yellow flag flew in the desert (beyond the scheduled stops).
Two Camry’s topped the race as Martin Truex Jr. held off teammate Kyle Busch to capture the checkered flag and successfully defend his 2018 Toyota/Save Mart 350 title. The win marked his third career victory at Sonoma and his fourth win of 2019 moving him into a tie with Busch for the most wins this season.
As the first road race of the 2019 season, the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma normally features 12 turns over a 2-mile course that winds through the wine country hills to add elevation to the mix for one of the more challenging tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
The return of a downhill, 200-degree U-turn known as “the Carousel,” increased the difficulty of the track with the addition of three more turns and another half-mile of track, a combination that resulted in a longer race run in less laps as compared to the 2018 version of the track.
The race started with Kyle Larson on the pole, as it has for three years in a row, followed by William Byron, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez to round out the top five.
Byron took the lead on the first lap, Elliott slipped in behind him on lap two and the first stage consisted of the two of them opening upwards of a ten-second lead over the rest of the pack as they wove through a course that presented few passing lanes.
Elliott slid into the pits on lap 16 and Byron maintained the lead the capture stage one and some critical play-off points. Unfortunately, Byron’s first pit-stop pushed him into the middle of the pack where he remained to finish the race in 19th.
Denny Hamlin took advantage of the situation to take the lead half-way through stage two, and the three-way battle between him, Elliott, and Truex Jr. dominated the middle of the race until both No. 9 and No. 19 made the decision to pit prior to end of the stage and Hamlin took home the 40 lap victory.
Barring an accident, the final stage of the race appeared to be a fight between Truex Jr., Busch and Elliott as the three continued to stay within reach of each other but pull away from the pack. Until lap 60, when Elliott pulled into pit with an obvious problem.
After a quick inspection under the hood, the car was wheeled behind the infield wall and Elliott’s day was finished with a disappointing thirty-seventh due to engine failure.
The final laps of the race came down to tires as Truex Jr. chose to hit pit-row a mere three laps ahead of Busch and the 7.5 miles of extra tread made the difference as he crossed the line with 1.69 seconds to spare under his 23rd career checkered flag.
NASCAR returns to an oval track as the series moves to Chicagoland Speedway in Illinois for the Camper World 400 on June 30.