This weekend is the first road race of the NASCAR Cup schedule and it’s a doozy of a course. Sonoma Raceway is the host venue and this year, for the first time in 20 years and because of the 50th anniversary of the track, they have gone back to the traditional Sonoma layout that lengthens the laps by about a half mile from 1.99 miles previously to 2.52 now and adds three more turns. The race is now also 20 laps shorter, 90 laps total, than it has been for the last two decades which gives the drivers fewer chances to make things happen on the track. All of that should boost the excitement level and the racing on the track on Sunday.

Let’s dive into some picks for the race, shall we?


Martin Truex Jr. – 7/2

Truex Jr. is the defending race winner here and has won twice at this road course. He had the fastest car much of practice on Friday and then qualified P8 for Sunday’s race. Truex even said he was so happy with his car that he was willing to pull the car off the track early in the final practice so as not to risk anything happening to it. His track history is a bit boom or bust here, but if he wins for the third time and second year in a row, it will pay dividends at 3.5/1 odds.

Kyle Busch – 4/1

Busch is the winningest active driver on road course in the Cup series with four under his belt total, one of those came here a couple of years ago. He has three top fives and four top-10s in the last five races at Sonoma and this week he has a top-10 car based on practice speeds and his qualifying spot of P7. Busch’s consistency here is one of the best among the favorites and has him squarely in contention to win Sunday’s race.

Clint Bowyer – 5/1

Bowyer has the best average finish of any active driver at Sonoma. He also is tied for the most top fives and top-10s in the last five races here with three and four respectively. Over the last 10 races here he has six top-fives and eight top-10s, both of which are the most and he also has a win. The past two years he’s started 15th or worse and finished third and second respectively. This year he’s starting P14 but had a top-five car in practice over the short and long run and said he really enjoyed the new layout of the track. The late money has been flying to Bowyer as he started Sunday morning at 14/1 odds.

Middling Odds

Kyle Larson – 31/4

Larson is on the pole for the third year in a row, which isn’t a shock since his average starting spot in his five previous Cup race here was 2.8 coming into this weekend. The problem is that his average finishing spot is 19.0. However, this week he has said they are working on making the long-run speed last longer this year which, if they have figured it out, might make it tough for folks to track him down as the race progresses given how well he was driving the circuit in practice. At 7.75/1 he’s worth a small wager that his team figured it out this year.

Ryan Blaney – 17/1

Blaney hasn’t historically done well here, but he is a solid road racer in general. This week though, he appears to have a top-five car, speed wise, under him before he qualified P9 for the race. If that speed and the consistent lines he was driving in practice make it to the race, he should be able to hang in the top-10 for the race and then catch some breaks, and bam he’s a winner. He’s also going off at 5/1 for a top-three finish and 23/10 (2.3/1) for a top-five finish.

Jimmie Johnson – 25/1

Johnson has continued to show well at Sonoma even through his lean years, this past couple, as he has two top-10s and five top-15s with an average finish of 10.0 in the last five races here. This week he will start P11 after flashing some top-five speed in practice over the short run, as did all of the Hendrick Motorsports cars. Johnson has been slowly figuring out this package this season and has a few top-10s in the last handful of races coming into this week. If the top-five speed shows up and his experience shows through, these are good odds for a nice payday. Though there is risk since he hasn’t won in almost two full seasons at this point.

William Byron – 35/1

Byron is on the front row, once again, this week as he ran the second fastest qualifying lap on Saturday. He didn’t quite show that good of speed in practice, but his lap times did improve each time around the 2.52-mile circuit. He is also working with a driving coach named Max Papis who is based at Sonoma, has tons of experience on this track and imparting wisdom to young drivers. If Byron can make his qualifying lap more of a constant instead of a fluke, 35/1 odds is a good payday for a guy that has shown tons of speed the last five or six races this year.


Chris Buescher – 55/1

Buescher appears to have a heck of a car under him this week as he ran the third fastest combined practice lap on Friday of anyone in the field and then qualified P10 for the race. He doesn’t have the strongest of histories at this track but has shown the ability to move up in the field in his past three trips to the Napa Valley course. If he makes himself hard to pass, that speed could translate to running in the top-10 much of the day and his crew chief is good at late-race strategy for sneaking wins out. He’s also going off at 17/1 for a top-three finish and 15/2 for a top-five finish.

Michael McDowell – 88/1

McDowell might be the most understated guy in the field with road course experience, of which he has a bunch. He also secured his best starting spot ever at this track by locking down the 13th spot in the starting grid. McDowell consistently ran top-eight in short and long run speeds all day Friday at practice. He has yet to win a Cup series race, hence the long odds despite the nice speed this weekend, but if he pulls out his first one here, that’s a great payday.