Kevin Harvick accomplished a rare double up by winning both of the events at Sonoma Raceway over the weekend. First he took the win in the Carneros 200 K & N Pro West Tour event, then followed up by winning the 29th annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup event.
Harvick utilized much of the same strategy in the Cup race as he did in the Pro West Tour event. After qualifying 12th, he drove his Stewart-Haas Mobil One Ford just hard enough to stay within reach of the leader, pole sitter Kyle Larson and #2 qualifier Jamie McMurray. As the race progressed, Larson and McMurray fell back, while #3 qualifier, Martin Truex Jr. took over the point in his #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota.
With NASCAR’s new three-segment event schedule, on track strategies varied between racing hard for segment championship points and racing for the overall event win. Event wins are how drivers get into the “Chase for the Championship” end of season playoff. Championship segment points help drivers to seed themselves higher into the Chase. With each event being divided into three segments, the on-track racing is closer throughout the racing event, instead of drivers simply hanging back until the last few laps, before making an attempted charge towards the front.
This adds excitement for the fans and more competitive driving for the drivers. With this new format, the event featured 10 different leaders. Truex won the first segment and Jimmie Johnson won the second segment. The toughest driver in the event looked to be Truex, as he led the final five of the 25 laps in the first segment, to win the first segment and 16 of the 25 laps within the second segment. But, when the motor in Truex’s car expired late in the second segment, Harvick knew that he now had the strongest car. At that point he stepped up his performance with 24 laps of the 65 final segment laps remaining to get to the front. Once in the lead, he never looked back as he took the checkered flag. This was his first NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series victory of the 2017 season and his first such win at Sonoma Raceway. The win was also the 36th of his career in 590 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series races. Clint Boyer, driving the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing/Cars 3 Ford finished second, despite having three on track spinouts. Brad Keselowski was third in the #2 Penske/Freightliner Elite Support Ford. Denny Hamlin in the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota and Kyle Busch in the #18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota rounded out the top five.
Dale Earnhardt, who started 10th, finished sixth in his final race at Sonoma Raceway with his Axalta Chevrolet. The popular driver is retiring at the end of the season. His legions of fans, cheered him on throughout the event, hoping he could get his first win on the famed Sonoma Raceway road course. He had a strong car, but an early on track incident with Danica Patrick pushed him back into the field. As he entered the tight turn #11 hairpin, his brakes locked up, causing him to slide sideways into the turn, where Patrick hit him broadside. Patrick’s car received most of the damage, costing her a chance at a top five or 10 finish. It took a couple of pit stops to get Earnhardt’s car competitive again, allowing him to make a strong comeback. Though he was able to work his way from the back of field to as high as second, he just didn’t have enough to challenge for the win.
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series is off to Daytona Speedway for the Coke Zero 400 over the 4th of July weekend.