CONCORD, N.C. – For the second time during the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, the premier series will be turning left and right in competition. This time, the battle will take place at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.
"The Golden State's" history of hosting road course competition in the Cup Series began with Riverside International Raceway in 1958. The track, located 50 miles outside of Los Angeles, held NASCAR events for 30 years. When that facility was sold to developers, Sears Point Raceway, which would later be remained Sonoma Raceway, joined the schedule. Except for the 2020 season, the 12-turn road course has annually hosted a date on the Cup Series schedule since joining in ’89.
The track’s layout is also a unique one compared to the other road courses on the calendar. To start, Sonoma has massive elevation changes throughout the track. Standing at the bottom of turn one, drivers will rely on feel more than sight to find their way to the top of the hill before the second turn. After cresting turn four, the competitors will make their way down several fast corners to the lowest point of the track.
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At 1.99 miles in length, fuel mileage always has the chance to play a role depending on how the cautions fall. Caution flags will not be deployed at the end of stages on road courses. That increases the likelihood of a fuel mileage finish playing out.
The track's biggest opportunity to overtake a driver, turn 11, is famous for aggressive driving due to its hairpin construction. On a long, physically demanding day, watch for this turn to be a hotspot for action.
Hendrick Motorsports has gone to victory lane seven times at Sonoma. Vice chairman Jeff Gordon leads the way with five victories at the facility. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson are the other two drivers to score a win at the track for the team.
Larson has cause to be excited about a return to Northern California. Not only did he grow up an hour and a half from the track in Elk Grove, California, but he has fared well in his home state. In his first trip to the 12-turn facility with Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, Larson came out on top. In fact, he’s won three of the last four stages at the track. The 30-year-old driver credits his ability to qualify up front as a main reason for his success. He has won the pole for the last four races at Sonoma that have had qualifying sessions.
"For whatever reason, I qualify well there," Larson said on his Sonoma success. "Since I’ve been with Hendrick (Motorsports), I’ve raced well there. We got a win in 2021 and led some laps in '22. We had a fast car but just missed the strategy some and then had a wheel fall off as we were starting to get back into contention. It’s kind of a flowy track. Tires wear out, so you kind of manage your runs quite a bit. It’s got a lot of elevation change and I enjoy all that."
In addition to Sunday’s main event, Larson will pilot the No. 17 HendrickCars.com entry in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday. This is the track's first-ever event in the Xfinity Series.
While the road course win has yet to come, William Byron aims to check that box off his list this Sunday. With three stage wins on tracks turning left and right, he sits in a tie for sixth all-time in this category. In his last outing on a road course (at Circuit of The Americas), the No. 24 entry sat on the pole and carded a top-five finish, which was the first of his career on this type of track. Byron carries the momentum of six consecutive top-10 finishes in 2023.
Although Alex Bowman is still searching for his first win on a road course, the Tucson, Arizona, native has some impressive stats to his name on these tracks. His two runner-up finishes are the second-most among drivers yet to win on serpentine tracks. In 21 road course starts with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman has finished inside the top-10 spots on 10 occasions. Coming into this weekend, he sits six points outside the playoff picture.
Chase Elliott’s stats on road courses speak for themselves. His seven road course wins are the most among active drivers and the third-most of all-time - although none have come at Sonoma. All of those victories have come with crew chief Alan Gustafson. Since the start of the 2022 season, Elliott’s four top-10 results on road courses put him in a tie for the fourth-most among Cup Series drivers. His seven stage victories on this track type are the most in Cup Series history. With 11 races remaining in the regular season, Elliott sits 98 markers below the playoff cutline and is likely in need a win to make it into the playoffs.
Here’s what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
The Cup Series will see group practice begin at 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 10. Immediately following practice, group qualifying will take place at 6 p.m. ET. Both events will be televised on FS2. Bowman and Larson will be in Group A, while Elliott and Byron will be part of Group B.
The Xfinity Series will kick off their on-track activity with a 50-minute practice taking place on Friday, June 9, at 4:05 p.m. ET with coverage on FS1. On Saturday, June 10, the series will have group qualifying at 3 p.m. ET with coverage also on FS1. Larson will be in Group B for qualifying.
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WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 110-lap Cup Series race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 11, with coverage on FOX. This marks the final race of the season on FOX before coverage of the Cup ranks shifts over to NBC and USA Network for the remainder of the season.
The 79-lap Xfinity Series race will take place on Saturday, June 10, at 8 p.m. ET with coverage available on FS1.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
The Cup Series and Xfinity Series races will be broadcast on PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
Yes. Download the FOX Sports Live app for online coverage. Fans can also keep up with the action on Twitter by following @TeamHendrick.
WHAT CHANNEL IS FS1?
It varies by location, but this link allows viewers to find the channels by entering their zip code and selecting their television provider.
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO SONOMA
Data provided by Racing Insights
4: The number of road course wins for Larson since joining Hendrick Motorsports. That is the third-most (behind Gordon and Elliott) in the history of the organization.
7: Top-five finishes for Byron in 2023. In the entire 2022 campaign, the driver of the No. 24 entry earned five top-five results.
8.16: Elliott’s average finish on road courses. This mark is nearly four positions better than the driver that's second in that statistical category. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native has achieved this mark across a remarkable 25 starts.
9.978: The average four-tire pit stop time from the No. 48 Ally Racing crew in St. Louis last weekend. This was the best mark among all teams from that event.
26: All-time wins in the Cup Series on road courses by Hendrick Motorsports. This mark is 12 victories better than the next best team.