Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – SONOMA, CA – Chase Elliott made a major move in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
No, Elliott didn’t win the race, but his fourth-place finish was a career best in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in five starts on road courses.
While other contending drivers – including top-three finishers Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – came to pit road before the ends of the first two stages to set up superior track position, Elliott stayed out through the green/checkered flags to collect stage points, finish fourth in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2.
In the final stage, however, he overcame the disadvantaged track position to run fourth behind the three strongest cars in the race. And by scoring 49 points on Sunday, seven more than any other driver and nine more than race winner Truex, Elliott solidified his 13th-place position in the series standings.
More than anything, Elliott has begun to enjoy road course racing.
“It was a lot more fun, this trip out here, than it was the last two times,” said Elliott, who finished 21st and eighth, respectively, in his first two Sonoma races. “I made a lot of gains, personally, I think, for me at this track. It’s been one of my worst. To come here and have pace on Friday and qualify good on Saturday, and to have pace today, it was just a lot more fun.
“I appreciate everyone on my NAPA team working hard this weekend. We had a fast Chevrolet all three days. And that’s nice to show up and get rhythm. We kind of had to pick our battles today. We elected to get some stage points and that set us back a little for that last stage, but I don’t think we had the pace that the leaders had. So it was a good finish for me, and we’re looking forward to the next road race.”
MISSED SHIFT DESTROYS AJ ALLMENDINGER’S WINNING CHANCES
AJ Allmendinger had just won the first stage of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 when his race – and his engine – fell apart.
Allmendinger started fifth and quickly worked his way into second place during the first stage, only to surrender the runner-up spot to Kevin Harvick on Lap 15 of the 25-lap stage. But when Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick pitted early on Lap 22, Allmendinger inherited the top spot and held it through the green/checkered flag, collecting the first stage win of his career.
Allmendinger brought the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet to pit road during the caution between stages and restart 17th on Lap 30. Four circuits later, however, his race came to an end when Allmendinger missed a shift and blew the engine in his Chevy, ruining one of his best chances to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
“I just missed a shift,” the disconsolate driver said afterwards. “I haven’t missed a shift in probably 10 years on a road course. The best gear boxes I have had since I’ve ever been here, and, I don’t know – I just missed a shift.
“Just trying to be patient back there and set up each move. The car was pretty good. I don’t know if it was race-winning… we needed to work on the long run, but, believe me, when it happened I was in a lot of disbelief and shock. I wasn’t ready for it and let everybody down on this race team.”
DESPITE STRONG RUN, CLINT BOWYER LEAVES SONOMA WANTING MORE
Clint Bowyer engineered a spectacular drive In Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, starting 19th and climbing to third at the finish.
But the winner of two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this season wanted more. Bowyer had tasted victory at Sonoma Raceway in 2012, and he had a craving to quaff the California wine that goes to the winner once again.
Only two problems: 1) Race winner Martin Truex Jr.’s pit strategy, which afforded a comfortable winning margin with a single stop to Bowyer’s two in the final stage, and 2) Bowyer’s teammate Kevin Harvick, who wasn’t willing to surrender the second spot.
“I’m happy to be in this (Stewart-Haas Racing) equipment and have this opportunity, but I’m also frustrated, because we were one of the three that were the class of the field and had a legitimate shot at racing for a win,” Bowyer said. “They (Truex’s team) just took a little different strategy than we did and that’s what it took. You had to separate yourself some way.
“It was a lot of fun out there. I had my struggles just like they did. It seemed like the 4 (Harvick) had a little better turn than I did, and the 78 (Truex) was better. On long runs I was coming to him, especially that real long run we had. Then we started pitting, and I didn’t know what to expect. All in all, it was a solid day and I’m proud of the guys for going out there and getting the job done. We just came up a little short.”