The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is actually off this weekend, but the first road course race of the 2018 season is waiting on the horizon when the action resumes. Sonoma Raceway will host the Toyota/Save Mart 350, and the track is one of the most technically demanding around thanks to elevation changes, combination turns and hard braking and shifting zones.
With the addition of the Charlotte road course this year, Sonoma will be the first of three road course events. Not surprisingly, certain drivers seem to excel at all road racing, but there is also a strategy element that comes into play. Track position is huge, and since you can easily pit without losing a lap, crew chiefs will try to short pit and stretch fuel, hoping to catch a caution that puts them out front for the final run to the finish.
The threat of pit strategy combined with the fact that certain drivers enjoy a substantial boost in performance at road courses make Sonoma a great track to utilize alternative options, especially in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game. Yes, you will still see many of the same big names at the top of my rankings this week, but the gap isn’t likely to be as wide at a road course, and there is a much higher probability of randomness in the final results.
You also can’t ignore the fact that a road course Sonoma is your best chance to get strong finishes out of otherwise mediocre options. You can’t use the top options every week at Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, so picking and choosing when you use sleepers is critical for your long-term success. There will be opportunities to get great finishes out of unexpected sources at Sonoma.
1. Kyle Busch, #18 M&M’s, Joe Gibbs Racing
Busch is a two-time winner at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen, and he is in the middle of one of his strongest stretches at the road courses. He has finished seventh or better in his last six road course starts, and while Sonoma is a good track to try to save a start from elite options like Busch, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t the best play if you have the starts to spare.
2. Kevin Harvick, #4 Jimmy Johns/Busch Beer, Stewart-Haas Racing
He is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and Harvick has finished sixth or better in his last three starts at Sonoma. He brings a car capable of winning almost every week, and I don’t expect that to change here. However, I recommend saving him for one of the 1.5-mile ovals where the gap between the top drivers and everyone else has been even more pronounced.
3. Clint Bowyer, #14 Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing
Fresh off his second win of the year, Bowyer heads to a track that ranks among his best statistically. When given decent equipment, he is as good as they come at a road course, and he finished second at Sonoma and fifth at Watkins Glen for Stewart-Haas Racing last year. He’s been even better in his second year with SHR, and Bowyer should be a Top 5 play next Sunday.
4. Kurt Busch, #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing
He is one of the best in the business at road courses, and over the last 10 races, Busch leads all drivers with eight Top 10s and a 6.9 average finish. During the same stretch, he hasn’t finished worse than 12th. Busch has Top 5 potential in all fantasy formats.
5. Martin Truex, Jr., #78 Furniture Row, Furniture Row Racing
Truex won at Sonoma in 2013, and he appeared headed to another win here last year before suffering an engine issue. He got his revenge later in the year when he won at Watkins Glen, and Truex ended up leading more than 20 laps in both road course events in 2018. As usual, he should be a strong option across all formats.