Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2016 Toyota Save Mart 350

Who…gets my shoutout of the race?

He may have been visibly disappointed when the checkered flag flew, but the fact is that Denny Hamlin had a great day at Sonoma Raceway.  Hamlin’s second-place run was his best-ever result at the track and the first time since 2009 that he’s finished better than 18th there.  Hamlin raced Tony Stewart hard on the last lap for the win, and after coming up just short was one of the first people to congratulate Stewart in Victory Lane.  All in all, Hamlin had a stellar run and displayed a lot of class in the process.  It’s easy to understand why he was disappointed, but he can hold his head high after this one.

What…is the takeaway from this race?

Road-course racing has become some of the best racing in NASCAR in recent years, and Sunday’s instant classic didn’t disappoint.  While road racing is different from start to finish than oval racing, it’s certainly no less exciting, and it allows some different names to grab a little bit of the spotlight to boot. As road courses have gained popularity with fans, there’s been a push to have a race in the Chase, and NASCAR’s reluctance to do so is a bit of a mystery.  It seems as though it could only give the Chase a bit more credibility as a championship format, and while Brian France says it would be difficult to find a spot for a race, reality dictates that the Kansas fall date would be a good one to run at Watkins Glen International, with a cool, fast track and some beautiful fall foliage to boot. Add in what’s likely to be a more exciting race, and it’s a winning proposition all around.

Where…did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Carl Edwards’ pit strategy did not fall in his favor, and while he looked like a favorite to contend for the win, he wasn’t quite there at the end.  All told, Edwards led twice for 24 laps, but didn’t have what it took to race the top three in the closing laps.  His fourthplace finish is far from a bad day, though, and Edwards is already in solid position when the Chase kicks off in a couple of months.

(Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)
Carl Edwards, a former Sonoma winner started from the pole and had another strong day, contending early and posting a solid top-5 performance. (Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)

Kyle Busch was as strong as his teammates at times, but like Edwards was just not quite a contender when it mattered.  A year ago, Busch rolled into Victory Lane in almost identical fashion to Tony Stewart this Sunday: back in the game after an injury but desperately in need of a win to give him any hope of title contention in the fall.  This time, Busch ran seventh after leading just two laps.

When…did it all go sideways?

While there are certainly teams who would like another crack at Sonoma, overall there was little to complain about in the big picture.  There was hard racing from beginning to end, though judging by the radio chatter, the television cameras again missed a lot of the hotter action.  The final lap was pure NASCAR gold with Tony Stewart, the sentimental favorite for many fans, taking the white flag only to slip up on the final lap, allowing Denny Hamlin to pounce.  Then. just when you thought Hamlin would drive away and leave Smoke fuming, Stewart dove deep into the final turn to slide by Hamlin as both slid across the track on worn tires.  It was the kind of racing the sport was born on, Sunday was one for the ages with all the ingredients of a great story to be told for years to come.

Why…did Tony Stewart win the race?

At the end of the day, he wanted it more. A lot of drivers might have settled for second with fading tires and Denny Hamlin trying to drive away after a daring pass on the last lap, but Stewart isn’t most drivers.  He laid back coming to turn 10, knowing he’d need to get inside of Hamlin to have a shot at the spot, and got the perfect entrance to the corner that he needed.  It was hard, clean racing, though Hamlin did make contact with the outside wall—Stewart didn’t wreck Hamlin or cost him second place, just as Hamlin didn’t wreck him earlier in the lap.  Stewart reminded viewers why he should be remembered as one of the best racers in history, claiming his 49th Cup win in the last season of what will certainly be a Hall of Fame career.

How…did the little guys do?

The three best:

AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing: AJ Allmendinger is one of the top road racers in NASCAR right now, but Sonoma has been his Achilles’ heel.  Allmendinger had a great start to the weekend, qualifying second and then taking the lead with a bold move on Carl Edwards on lap nine, leading 16 laps. All told, Allmendinger led four times for a total of 20 circuits, but a costly pit penalty for an uncontrolled tire left him in 35th for what would be the final restart.  He worked his way back to 14th, impressive in itself, but was left to wonder what might have been if he’d restarted in the top 10 where he’d been all day.

Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing: Ryan Blaney struggled a bit in his first road course race of the year and first at Sonoma, but his day wasn’t a wash by any stretch.  Blaney ran in the top 20 for a good portion of the day and at one point broke into the top 10, but he faded to finish 23rd.  All in all, it was a good learning experience for the rookie driver, and the team wasn’t disappointed with the finish.

Casey Mears, Germain Racing: Casey Mears had a better car than his 24th-place finish indicates, but the No. 13 team’s bad luck wasn’t quite ready to pack up and leave at Sonoma.  Mears had a good qualifying run and one of the fastest cars in practice, but was unable to capitalize.  During the race, Mears said he had good speed but wasn’t able to gain ground in the corners. The team’s strategy play to stay out longer than other teams late in the day didn’t play out well and cost Mears four or five spots at the end.  The bright spot continues to be the team’s excellent pit work, which has been on par with the top teams all season long.  Mears probably has Daytona circled on his calendar as it’s one of his best tracks, and he sorely needs to shake the black cloud that’s been over his head this year.

All the rest:

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Ralph’s / Kingsford Chevy 2nd 14th
Very strong in early going, bold pass of the lead on Edwards; complained of no grip mid-race; controlled tire penalty on final stop, restarted 35th and raced back to 14th
12 18th
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft / Quick LaneFord 26th 23rd
Struggled a bit in practice and qualifying; gained several spots but was unhappy with car toward the end of runs
+3 17th
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 14th 24th
Early contact with Danica Patrick; fought handling midrace, questionable pit strategy cost better finish—had a better car than the finish showed
-10 28th
7 Regan Smith Tommy Baldwin Racing Nikko RC Chevy 31st 28th
Smith never seemed to get a handle on the car through the weekend but finish was overall not bad
+3 31st
38 Landon Cassill Front Row Motorsports MDS Transport Ford 37th 29th
Said before race road courses are a challenge; had a decent day overall
+8 27th
34 Chris Buescher Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 36th 30th
Fought tight condition for most of the race but salvaged a top 30
+6 33rd
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Dustless Blasting Toyota 33rd 31st
Stayed out of trouble; not the finish they wanted, but overall an OK day
+2 34th
23 David Ragan BK Racing Dr. Pepper Toyota 30th 32nd
Struggled all weekend; never really looked comfortable on track
-2 29th
98 Cole Whitt Premium Motorsports RTIC Chevy 35th 34th
Finished the race on the lead lap, which for this program right now is what they need to do
+1 36th
93 Dylan Lupton BK Racing Bell Bros. Plumbing, Heat & Air / Elk Grove Toyota 38th 35th
Solid if unspectacular performance by the rookie who came home on the lead lap
+3 N/A
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 40th 36th
Lost a lap early; got wavearound but were not able to capitalize and wound up two laps down
+4 37th
32 Patrick Carpentier GO FAS Racing Can-Am Ford 34th 37th
Carpentier’s run illustrates continued importance of equipment in races; lost power late but got out of the way
-3 45th

1st start

30 Josh Wise The Motorsports Group Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy 39th 38th
Never had speed to compete; lost three laps and not able to make headway; day ended 13 laps short after the engine expired.
+1 39th
95 Michael McDowell Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing KLOVE Radio Chevy 20th 39th
McDowell is a good road racer.  Strong qualifying effort; uncontrolled tire penalty on late stop; late gear failure ended his race with 17 to go
-19 35th
15 Clint Bowyer HScott Motorsports 5-hour Energy Chevy 18th 40th
Qualified well; day ended by electrical fire.  Small issues are building up for HSM
-22 26th
55 Cody Ware Premium Motorsports Chevy DNQ N/A


About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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….Ah the magical Sonoma, what healing powers it seems to have. The Lourdes of NASCAR.

“Why did Tony S. win the race”? Well, minus the cawhsins’ that happened when the Waiver darling got his win last year, this years Waiver darling won because it seems Hamlin almost literally stopped and pulled over to take a text from the baby mama to pick up a gallon of millk on the way home in the Gulfstream.

NASCAR media is now ripe for endless articles regarding the “thrilling” watch of “Smoke” as he inches closer to that magic number to get into the fabled, fair and fantastic “Chase”. We saw it with the “Champ” last year.


Of course the hypocritical mantra of the NASCAR media and fans continues. “He did what he had to do”. Lol. Anybody else, light the torches!


“The Lourdes of NASCAR”. That’s darn funny!


Damn right Hamlin got your shout out. Talk about taking one for the script. And I am no fan of Hamlin. Hamlin was so overly gracious, it was jaw dropping. The whole thing had a fishy smell to it. IMO. No surprise however…business as usual.


It was almost like he made a mistake when he got the lead on the last lap and had to give it back.

“Oops, I shouldn’t have done that. Gotta make a mistake. I’ll do it in the last corner and pretend to try to win.”


Watching the fire in Bowyer’s car I couldn’t help thinking of “Smoke gets in your eyes.”

It’s amazing how the Diva and Ricky find each other during races. It’s like they’re singing “Workin’ my way back to you babe.”

broken back

Amy, you are so full of shit I’ll bet you have to plunge your toilet every day! Tony “wanted it more?” BS! NASCAR wanted it more.

Ryan Blaney is a little guy? Tell that to Penske.

Tony is incapable of winning a race unless it is handed to him. If he had had to race for more than 20 laps, he would have slide back to his mid-20’s position. If that is an example of why he should be remembered as great racer, then you are a hot babe, instead of the dog we all know you are from your pictures.

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