Carl Edwards pieced together a perfect weekend, scoring his first road-course victory and second win of the year by leading 26 laps and dominating the closing segment of Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350. The Roush Fenway Racing driver didn't put a foot wrong in the final laps, and can now focus even more on getting prepared for the Chase for the Championship.
In typical fashion the Sonoma Raceway produced plenty of bumping, taking out competitors one by one until just the victor remained standing. The Sprint Cup regulars continued to prove that the road-course specialists that could come in and compete once or twice a year for victory simply can't anymore. The talent and skill on these types of courses continue rise, and each road-course race produces competition just as exciting as the last.
While Sunday was Edwards' day, there were plenty of other great performances that drivers will hope to capitalize on next week at Kentucky Speedway. Additionally, there are others who hope to turn last Sunday's misfortunes around in short order.
Carl Edwards - Edwards put in the perfect weekend, doing just enough in practice and qualifying to take advantage in the race, and that is exactly what he did on Sunday. After hectic battles out front for much of the day took out some of the top cars, Edwards was left standing to capitalize. He won the race having led 26 laps, and not putting a foot wrong in the closing stages. The win marked his first on a road course. Edwards has one top-5 finish from his three Kentucky tries, with an average finish of 15.3. Sunday's road-course win gives Edwards two on the season, and he'll rest even more comfortably in the races leading up to the Chase for the Championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Not known for his road racing abilities, Earnhardt came awfully close to scoring an upset in Sonoma. The veteran driver drove a fantastic race, running in the top five almost all afternoon, and proved that he should be a consideration when road circuits arrive on the schedule. He finished third on Sunday, and continues to have the season of his career. He has his spot in the Chase, and can approach each race until then with the focus of preparing for a run at the championship. Like Edwards, Earnhardt has one top-5 in his three Cup races at Kentucky Speedway, with an average finish of 15.3. This has been his year, and Earnhardt should be a contender again next week.
Jamie McMurray - Like many other races this season, McMurray had a car that could challenge for victory in Sonoma. He was a factor all afternoon, but just couldn't be out front at the end. The Ganassi Racing driver led nine laps, and will think he probably could have taken victory with a bit more luck. The fourth-place finish is his second top-10 result in the last three races. The driver of the No. 1 car also has one top-5 at Kentucky, but his average finish is 17.7. This team has raced well with strong equipment many times this season, and it seems like just a matter of time before a breakthrough win arrives. Perhaps that chance will come this week if the team can harness the momentum from Sonoma.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer raced well for most of Sunday's race until the restart following Matt Kenseth's accident. Coming to the green flag, Bowyer bumped Jimmie Johnson, which then caused an accordion effect where McMurray pushed Bowyer into a spin. Kevin Harvick collected Bowyer after the spin. The No. 15 sustained heavy damage to the left rear of his car, and sat motionless while he watched the rest of the field stream past. He headed to the pits for repairs, but the damage had already been done. Still, Bowyer made amends and worked his way back to finish 10th after that disappointment. That was no small feat on a track as tight as Sonoma. Bowyer has one top-5 Kentucky to his credit, and an average finish of 18th.
Brad Keselowski - An early spin coming off of turn 11 put Keselowski at a big disadvantage for the remainder of Sunday's race. The majority of the field passed the former champion, and making up positions on track is a difficult thing to do at the twisty California course. After the halfway point of the race Keselowski was running just outside the top 30 a lap down. While last week might have been disappointing, this week could present an opportunity for the No. 2 team. Keselowski is a past winner at Kentucky, taking the trophy in 2012. His one other top-10 at the track helps his average finish to 13.7. With his Penske Racing team behind him, Keselowski will want to bounce back from Sonoma as soon as possible.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth didn't come into the Toyota/Save Mart 350 with high expectations, and a late crash confirmed a poor performance. Kenseth collided with Dale Earnhardt Jr. who hit a curb and was pushed into Kenseth's rear fender, sending him out of Sunday's race. That 42nd-place finish is now his third straight finish outside of the top 10. Things could get brighter for the No. 20 team at Kentucky, though. Kenseth has the best average finish in the three Sprint Cup races there at 4.7. He won last year's race and hasn't finished worse than seventh. Kenseth needs a good result to right his current slump, which his poor end to Sunday's race may make a bit more difficult.
Kevin Harvick - With nowhere to go on a late restart, Harvick plowed into the spun car of Bowyer. Harvick continued on, but took heavy right-front damage, and was at the back of the field when everything was said and done. The championship contender had been having a good race up until that point, keeping in touch with the leaders on a road course, which isn't one of his fortes. The championship contender has one top-10 finish at Kentucky, with an average finish of 12.3.There is little doubt that the No. 4 car will be fast in Kentucky, there haven't been times this season that it hasn't. Harvick should be quick to bounce back, and will want to continue building momentum for the Chase.
A.J. Allmendinger - After a fantastic run deep into Sunday's race and leading the most laps in the race at 35, Allmendinger spun on the front straight and dropped loads of positions. Coming off of turn 11 the former open-wheel driver was pinched by Dale Earnhardt Jr. causing Allmendinger to lose control and have contact with Brian Vickers. He felt something broken in the car's steering after that, so he was forced to pit for repairs and finished 37th. It was a terrible end to such a great day for the driver who had the potential to win. Allmendinger finish 9th in the 2012 race at Kentucky, and has an average finish of 19.7. We'll see if he is able to shake off the bad luck and continue moving forward this week.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin was virtually absent in California. Expectations weren't terribly high for the No. 11 at the road course, but 26th finishing position isn't what this team should be content with. His practice times were nothing special, and he didn't qualify well either, starting 16th. The team should have been aiming for a top-15 finish, but trouble late in the race relegated him far down the order. Like many others, Hamlin has a single top-5 in three Kentucky starts. His average finish at the track is 16.3, but has now finished outside of the top 20 in each of the last two races. His turnaround seemed near just a handful of races ago, but one wonders if Hamlin has now entered another slump.
Paul Menard - Menard had never scored a top finish at Sonoma Raceway, but he turned in a strong performance in both practice and qualifying. To prove the speed wasn't a fluke, Menard raced to a top-5 finish on Sunday. The fifth-place finish is his second consecutive top-5 result, and his third top-5 of the season. Menard just continues to extend his run of good form, and fantasy players need to start taking note if they haven't already. Menard's best Kentucky finish was 12th in the 2012 race, and his average result is 22nd. With his continued run of momentum, Menard could very well carry onward to be within shouting distance of a spot in the Chase.