Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Finally Tastes Well Aged Victory at Sonoma

Who’s in the headline: In a race that saw strategies all over the board, 10 different leaders exchanged the lead 13 times, and questions about leaders having enough fuel to the make the finish emerged to make the Toyota/Save Mart 350 one of the most compelling races of the season. When the checkered flag flew, it was Kevin Harvick standing on top of the podium and drinking beer in the middle of wine country.

CATANZARETI: It’s ‘Worth the Wait’ As Kevin Harvick Scores 1st Victory at Sonoma

What happened: Kyle Larson started on the pole, led early but fell back and eventually finished deep in the pack thanks to damage incurred from contact and an off-track excursion. Martin Truex Jr. led early, won the first stage, led the most laps and then had an engine failure that ruined his day. Jimmie Johnson won the second stage, but finished outside the top 10. Both JTG Daugherty Racing cars and both Chip Ganassi Racing cars led the race at varying points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed to play a part in causing the two cautions that involved incidents before the final lap of the race, but somehow, he managed a sixth-place finish.

SEGAL: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earns 3rd Sonoma Top 10 in 4 Years

Harvick finished in the top six three times in his first 14 runs at Sonoma. In the last three years he’s finished fourth, sixth and first respectively. He has now won at all of the active tracks on the Cup schedule except Pocono, Texas and Kentucky.

Why you should care: Stewart-Haas Racing opened the year with a win in the Daytona 500. After some struggles since that race, the team is hitting its stride and scored its third 1-2 finish in the organization’s history at Sonoma. Kurt Busch had a strong run before a misdiagnosed soft tire torpedoed his run, and Danica Patrick once again fell victim to someone else’s mistakes. SHR is positioning itself for a run at another title as the season nears the midway point.

10 leaders and 13 lead changes are both records at Sonoma. Road course racing is still the new short track racing in the Cup Series. It is a shame that the sport won’t add any more legitimate road courses, instead relying on the addition of the Charlotte roval.

What your friends are talking about: Denny Hamlin‘s car was found to be illegal after last weekend’s XFINITY race at Michigan. It is one thing for Cup drivers to come down and run in the AAA league on any given race weekend. Most of the drivers in the series will tell you they welcome the opportunity to run against the top drivers in the sport. That said, the fact that the new point system has been implemented in the XFINITY Series, Cup racers need to hold themselves and their teams to a higher standard. Stealing a win from a series regular with an illegal car is not only weak, but it could have ramifications that cost that series competitor millions of dollars.

Carl Edwards was in Sonoma fulfilling a sponsor commitment this weekend. Of course seeing Edwards at the track people immediately started talking about when he would return to racin. Edwards told anyone interested that he has had no talks about returning to the sport. Earlier this year Edwards’ long time confidant Randy Fuller told Frontstretch that Edwards was happy as a lark working on his farm and had zero interest in racing again. Sorry to burst your bubble Edheads.

The 2017 Cup awards banquet will take place on Thursday Nov. 30 in Las Vegas. While bumping the show up in the week is probably inconsequential to the vast majority of fans, there are a select few who are quite excited to hear about it. Those fans would be the short track nuts who immediately turned their thoughts to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. The change in dates means that, should drivers want to, they could actually make it back to Florida to compete in the Snowball Derby this year. Christmas may have just come early for Super Late Model fans.

In a case of true irony, Kyle Busch‘s interim crew chief, Ben Beshore, could potentially be facing a suspension for two loose lug nuts after the race in Sonoma. Beshore is on top of the pit box thanks to Adam Stevens being suspended for a tire coming off of the car at Dover as Busch was leaving the pits. Stevens still has one more race to go on his suspension. NASCAR will make a final decision on Beshore this week. There’s no truth to the rumor that Joe Gibbs will be on the box for Daytona.

Earnhardt Jr. met the media at Sonoma for a question and answer session. He would not rule out running the Daytona 500 again in the future, if the right situation presents itself. He said there are other tracks where he has memories that might lead to his competing on them as well. He’s already committed to running XFINITY races next year. He also confirmed he’s exploring all options for next year to keep himself involved in the sport, continuing to promote it and raise the bar. The rumors are swirling that he will be in the booth next year. With his tease of possibly running the 500 again and joining the booth, he is sounding more and more like Michael Waltrip every day.

Chad Knaus had his laptop stolen from his car in San Francisco after arriving in town for the race this weekend. His wife’s laptop and art supplies were also stolen. Knaus’s race notes for the weekend were on the laptop but were encrypted by Hendrick Motorsports and were therefore not accessible to whomever took the computer. Unfortunately his wife’s laptop did not have that same encryption and Knaus was a bit worried about the personal information on her laptop. There was also a significant amount of cash in the briefcases that were taken. Knaus said he hopes the people who took the briefcases use the money to clean up their acts. He also noted that he’ll know if it was an inside job in the Cup garage if he sees anyone start taking up water colors.

Congratulations to Paul Wolfe and his wife Aleah on the birth of their second child Halle Lane Wolfe.

Who is mad: Truex carved through the field like a hot knife through butter multiple times on Sunday. Unfortunately for him, when it was coming down to go time, his engine got up and went. Truex still dominates the series in stage wins but he’s only wrangled two wins. While he’s obviously disappointed at another opportunity missed, he very well may be the poster child for the playoff point system when the final ten races get here.

Kasey Kahne took the white flag and then killed his car trying to pass Kevin O’Connell. Kahne was running near the tail end of the lead lap, crossed the line and attempted to go around the outside of O’Connell. When he went to the high side on the front straight, O’Connell moved to the right, forcing Kahne into the marbles. The result was a violent impact with the outside wall. Fortunately, Kahne walked away, but it was a lousy way to end a lousy day.

Who is happy: Chase Elliott scored his first top-10 finish in a Cup car on a road course. While it isn’t shocking, it is a cause for some celebration. Elliott had strong finishes on road courses in the XFINITY Series and won at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in the Truck Series. He’s finished every lap he’s competed on road courses in Cup, and it won’t be long before he contends for a win on a twisty turny track.

Michael McDowell has long been known as a strong road course racer. This year, he’s had some respectable showings in the Leavine Family Racing No. 95. Sunday was his third top-15 run of the season for the small team. While some might have expected this kind of result this weekend, it is still a happy event for a team of LFR’s size to run and finish with the big boys.

When the checkered flag flew:

Kevin Harvick’s win is his 36th career victory in his 590th start.

This is Harvick’s first career triumph at Sonoma Raceway.

Harvick’s victory is his first of 2017.

36 triumphs puts Harvick 22nd on the All-Time wins list, one behind Bobby Isaac.

Clint Bowyer’s runner-up finish was his second top two of the season.

Bowyer has come home in the top two twice in his career at Sonoma.

SEGAL: Clint Bowyer Finishes 2nd After ‘Really Good’ Day at Sonoma

This was Bowyer’s 12th career second place finish which ranks him in a tie for 57th on the All-Time list with Davey Allison, Neil Bonnet and Jamie McMurray.

Brad Keselowski’s third place finish is his 59th career podium run. He is tied with Jack Smith for 41st on the All-Time list.

Keselowski’s finish was his first career top three at Sonoma and his first finish better than tenth in eight career races at the California road course.

This is the sixth time in 2017 that Keselowski has come home in one of the top three positions.

Rookie of the Race was Daniel Suarez. That is his seventh such win of the year. Erik Jones has six and Ty Dillon has three.

16 races into the season, there have been 11 different winners this year. With 10 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are seven new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Johnson with most wins of the year with three. Brad Keselowski, Truex and Larson with two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Harvick with one each. In the 11 winners, Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.

The remaining seven drivers in points and their position:

  1. Kyle Busch
  1. Chase Elliott
  1. Jamie McMurray
  2. Denny Hamlin
  3. Joey Logano
  4. Clint Bowyer

The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 21

Jimmie Johnson – 16

Kyle Larson – 13

Brad Keselowski -12

Kevin Harvick – 8

Ryan Blaney – 8

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Austin Dillon – 5

Kyle Busch – 4

Chase Elliott – 2

Denny Hamlin – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Matt Kenseth – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

Sunday’s race had everything you could ask for outside of a car upside down and on fire sliding across the finish line to win the race. Lead changes, a myriad of strategies, disappointment, surprise, intrigue, fuel doubt. Most of the cars at the end of the race looked like they had survived a Bristol night race from 10 years ago. That said it earned five ice cold SonomaComa Double IPAs from Sonoma Springs Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week: This week we head back to where it all started for this season. The Firecracker 400, or the Coke Zero 400 as it is now called, rolls off Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. It can be seen on NBC, as its half of the season kicks off this coming weekend. The race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Enjoy it while you can, Kevin. One they (NASCRAP) gets that “Ford” back to the research center in North Carolina, and does their super-secret, no witnesses allowed, post race dissection, your win will be “encumbered”!


Oops! That should have read: “Once they (NASCRAP)…”


Funny I thought the same thing.

Sol Shine

Nice to see I’m not the only one that thinks Crasscar’s “inspection” system is a joke. Until they come up with a system whereby inspections are independently audited no one with a functional brain will believe there isn’t an agenda. And that agenda is usually oriented toward making sure Generous Motors wins twice as many cups as all other manufacturers combined. And now with the push to get Johnson the 8th fake Cup, in the mistaken belief that will help put bums in seats, this year is more suspect than ever.

Bill B

I really enjoyed the race yesterday.

First, the stages did create a lot of different strategies on this track that added a level of intrigue that doesn’t seem to be the case on the ovals (mainly because you lose a lap, or two, if you pit). I am not a big fan of the stages overall but they worked yesterday.

Second, NASCAR had a few opportunities to throw cautions in the latter laps of the race for cars spinning that didn’t hit anything and could continue. This was the most surprising thing I’ve seen in a long time. I was shocked, literally. NASCAR was willing to forgo bunching up the field and allowed the race to progress naturally.

Third, the last 15 laps or so were broadcast with no commercial breaks. Incredible. Was it a going away present for the fans since it was Fox’s last race for the season? Or was it just the result of having already been pummeled with commercials for the first 2/3 of the race? Regardless, very surprising and very welcome to get that much green flag racing without a commercial.


I thought the same thing at the end when the caution didn’t fly for Kenseth but then I did the math. With the laps remaining they would go over the allotted time by about ten minutes plus the interviews with the Mr. H drivers. The drag races had to be televised.

At the end maybe they ran out of sold commercials and couldn’t steal any more money from the suckers…er… advertisers.


Upon further review, maybe they wanted to show us that listening to the Waltrips for that long should make us “appreciate” the commercials a bit more.




Who was in the 55? He actually got out of the way of the faster cars. Not like the other guy.


Another great Sonoma race. Strategy was all over the place with the stages and the amount of tire wear. That really was like an old fashioned short track race. Almost every car looked beat to hell after the race. I wish Sonoma could have an extra playoff race.


Listened to last half of the race on the radio … sounded like a good race.

Something I don’t understand is the lug-nut penalties … why suspend the crew chiefs … it’s racing … wth

Kevin in SoCal

Sponsor Obligations? If Carl Edwards is not racing, what possible sponsor obligations could he have at the race track?

Bill B

Well, because he quit just prior to this season (January) it’s not hard to imagine that there were already agreements in place for June. What I can’t fathom is why people find it so hard to believe that he isn’t coming back. If I had made the money he has, I’d retire as soon as possible myself. Are you saying that if you had 20 million dollars in the bank that you’d keep working?

Kevin in SoCal

Does Greg Biffle still have sponsor obligations this year? He retired, too.


Greg who?

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