Your guide to the Toyota/SaveMart 350By Jim Utter

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 21, 2014 

  • Race facts

    Where: Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

    Track type: 1.99-mile, 10-turn paved road course

    Race distance: 110 laps or 218.9 miles

    Weather: Mostly sunny with a high near 80.

    TV: Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on TNT. Green flag is 3:16 p.m.

    Radio: Performance Racing Network

McMurray repeats as Sonoma pole winner

For the second consecutive season, Jamie McMurray will lead the field to green at Sonoma Raceway.

McMurray was fifth-fastest in Round 1 of Saturday’s knockout qualifying and in the final minute of Round 2 he won the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 with a track record average lap speed of 96.350 mph.

The previous record of 95.262 mph was set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012.

“The last segment was really good. I put together a really smooth lap on the last run and it was really quick around the corners,” McMurray said. “Our cars are really good right now. I feel really good about our entire program right now.”

The pole is the first this season for McMurray, 10th of his career and third at Sonoma (his other came in 2007.

A.J. Allmendinger will start second, Kyle Larson third, Carl Edwards fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. Series points leader Jeff Gordon will line up 15th.

Notebook

Stewart says Larson will ‘learn lesson’:Tony Stewart said rookie Kyle Larson will learn not to block him on the track “one way or the other.”

Stewart got angry with Larson near the end of last Sunday’s race at Michigan, when Larson blocked him on the track to prevent Stewart from completing a pass.

“On a restart, he swerves over to block us and puts a big hole in the nose that we’ve got to come in and fix,” Stewart said. “By the time we get it fixed, we’re buried so far back at the end of a race like that, we couldn’t do anything.

“He’ll either slow down enough and think about what he’s doing or he’ll be forced in a situation where he’ll have time to think about it and they’ll still be cars on the race track.”

Win a trip to Charlotte fall race:Kangaroo Express is teaming up with General Mills to offer race fans a chance to win a VIP trip to the Oct. 11 Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a meeting with Cup rookie Austin Dillon.

Fans can find a text-to-win code at Kangaroo Express stores across the Southeast, which provides the chance to win the grand prize as well several other prizes until the end of August.

Berry lands Nationwide ride:Josh Berry, who drives Late Model cars fielded by JR Motorsports, will make his Nationwide Series debut in August at Iowa Speedway. Berry, 23, has four Late Model wins this season.

Three things to watch

1. Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won five consecutive races and the organization is looking to tie the NASCAR “modern era” record of six set in 2007 (also by Hendrick).

2. There have been nine different winners at Sonoma in the last nine races and there are plenty of candidates to continue the streak.

3. Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch are the only drivers with three consecutive top-five finishes at Sonoma.

Observations

•  Every year it seems there is a growing expectation NASCAR will make radical changes to its Cup schedule, including moving race dates around or eliminating races altogether. And every year when the schedule is completed, virtually nothing of consequence changes. Another round of the same chorus – much of it pushed by the media – has been playing this year, and once again it’s becoming clear there will be few eye-catching changes to the 2015 schedule. Unless tracks close down or change ownership, there simply isn’t much incentive for the current track ownership groups to alter their respective lineups.

•  Both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon this weekend talked about the possibility that NASCAR drivers have come to rely too much on spotters. Johnson, specifically, said drivers should focus at least as much on “awareness of their surroundings” both inside and outside the car. In the end – spotters or no – only one person is responsible for where the car goes on the track.

•  Good move by Cup rookies Larson, Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier and Austin Dillon to compete in Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma. A driver with no prior experience gets hardly enough time in one day’s worth of practice to get acclimated to a new track, especially road courses which are out of the norm in the series.

Best bets

Three picks for your fantasy racing team:

A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick

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