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Sonoma Raceway hosts weekend of NASCAR action
Enjoying a unique opportunity, Oakdale SaveMart Store Manager Robert Alton, far right in the tower, had the honor of waving the green flag to start the Toyota/SaveMart 350 on Sunday, June 9 at Sonoma Raceway. Photo By Mike Burghardt

Robert Alton, Manager at the Oakdale SaveMart store, recently received the company award as Store Manager of the Year. Along with this award, he was given the privilege and honor of waving the green flag to start the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9. It’s a moment that Alton will likely never forget, waving the flag from his spot up above the raceway.

After Alton provided the official starting signal, 38 of NASCAR’s best drivers would thunder around the 1.99-mile course on the hills of Sonoma for 110 laps. Joey Logano captured the pole in his #22 Team Penske Autotrader Mustang and led the first 16 laps. By the end of the event, he would finish 21st due to an on-track incident in the early stages of the race. In all, there were 11 lead changes between nine drivers over the course of the event, but the last three were the critical ones. Chris Buescher in the #26 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford took over the lead on lap 84 following the final pit stop cycle. With about 10 laps remaining, Martin Truex made strong challenges to overtake Buescher, but Buescher was able to hold him off. While these two drivers were battling each other, Kyle Larson, who had led from laps 71 through 80 until he pitted, rapidly gained on them. Larson, with tires that were now 13 laps fresher than the cars ahead of him, allowed him to aggressively work his way into position to challenge for the lead and the potential win. On lap 101, Truex was able to take the lead from Buescher, but it came at a cost. Truex had to put a lot of wear on his tires and was not able to conserve fuel. On lap 102, Larson would make his move and pass both Buescher and Truex to take over the lead. With fresher tires, Larson would not really be challenged the rest of the way, and captured his second career win at Sonoma and third of the season. For Truex, things did not go so well, as his car ran out of fuel on the last lap, dropping him from second to 27th. With his tires going away, Buescher would give up second to Michael McDowell in his #24 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

For Larson, from Elk Grove, California, it was a special win for him in front of his large fan base at his home area track. He had recently won the 2024 Indy 500 “Rookie of the Year” award for his stellar 18th place finish. He was a strong contender to win the event, had he not inadvertently entered the pits at above the 60-mph speed limit. He tried to slow his car, but the front wheels locked up from too much braking, not allowing the car to slow down before the pit row entry point. This cost him a “drive through penalty” which took him out of competition. The race was won by Joseff Newgarden. Larson had the fans standing on their feet at Indy, just like at this event. In his short career so far, Larson has shown the amazing racing skills like several of the greats, Mario Andretti, Tony Stewart, AJ Foyt; to name a few, having won in about every type of race car he has driven, except Indy car. He is an exciting racer to watch in any race car he is driving. Larson leaves Sonoma as the Cup Series season point leader.

The NASCAR Xfinity cars also raced on Saturday, prior to the Cup series on Sunday. They ran in the Zip 250 Buy Now Pay Later event. Shane van Gisbergen, driving his #97 Weather Tech Chevrolet, collected his second road race victory on two West Coast road course venues as well as two back-to-back Xfinity series wins on the season. He leaves Sonoma as the Xfinity Series season point leader.

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In front of plenty of family and friends, it was Kyle Larson picking up his third win of the season on Sunday, June 9. Larson scored the victory in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma, the Toyota/SaveMart 350. Photo By Mike Burghardt