NASCAR Barometer: Stewart Leaves Sonoma on Top

NASCAR Barometer: Stewart Leaves Sonoma on Top

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Tony Stewart added another win to his record at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday in his final Sprint Cup season. The former champion missed the opening races due to a broken back but returned to the series with a level of performance that convinced the world that he could win, and he did just that in Sonoma. The owner/driver led the final miles of Sunday's race until Denny Hamlin briefly overtook him in the final lap. In the end it, was Stewart who made the race-winning move in the final turn, re-passing Hamlin to score an important and popular win.

This week the objective will be to win at Daytona International Speedway. This visit to the track will be under the lights and is a 400-mile affair that marks the traditional halfway mark of the season. Just 10 races remain for those drivers hoping to score a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but Stewart can rest assured, knowing he now just needs to work his way into the top-30 in points to fight for another championship in his final season.

UPGRADE

Tony Stewart – Stewart continued his step forward in performance in Sonoma with an incredible win. The former champion is in the process of erasing two seasons of serious steps back in performance. He's in his final season of competition in the series but was running confidently out front with less than 20 laps remaining in Sunday's race. Stewart had two previous Sonoma wins, and Sunday was

Tony Stewart added another win to his record at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday in his final Sprint Cup season. The former champion missed the opening races due to a broken back but returned to the series with a level of performance that convinced the world that he could win, and he did just that in Sonoma. The owner/driver led the final miles of Sunday's race until Denny Hamlin briefly overtook him in the final lap. In the end it, was Stewart who made the race-winning move in the final turn, re-passing Hamlin to score an important and popular win.

This week the objective will be to win at Daytona International Speedway. This visit to the track will be under the lights and is a 400-mile affair that marks the traditional halfway mark of the season. Just 10 races remain for those drivers hoping to score a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but Stewart can rest assured, knowing he now just needs to work his way into the top-30 in points to fight for another championship in his final season.

UPGRADE

Tony Stewart – Stewart continued his step forward in performance in Sonoma with an incredible win. The former champion is in the process of erasing two seasons of serious steps back in performance. He's in his final season of competition in the series but was running confidently out front with less than 20 laps remaining in Sunday's race. Stewart had two previous Sonoma wins, and Sunday was reminiscent of those races. The veteran has won four Daytona points wins, and his most recent was this week's race in 2012. While his recent results at the track haven't been spectacular, he's definitely turning a corner in terms of current results, and fantasy players need to take notice of that change.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin lost Sunday's race in Sonoma just as quickly as it looked like he might have secured the victory. He not only passed Stewart on the final lap but he also lost the lead again in the final turn. Hamlin's best previous Sonoma finish was fifth in 2009. He had what could have been considered the best car in the final laps but simply pushed too hard into the final corner as Stewart regained the ground he lost earlier in the lap. Instead of celebrating victory he is left to be content with his best Sonoma finish yet. Hamlin is already safely in the Chase and returns to Daytona as the Daytona 500 champion with a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes at the track.

Martin Truex Jr. – He may not have led any laps in Sonoma, but Truex was certainly a factor in the race. He was one of the fastest cars in practice and successfully carried that speed forward into Sunday's race. He remained inside the top five runners all afternoon and ended the day in fifth position, his third top-five of the season. In 22 Dayton starts, Truex has just one top-five and three top-10s. That seems like a record ripe for improvement, and if Truex can avoid the bad luck that has stalked him in 2016, he should be able to improve upon that. He led two laps before finishing second in the Daytona 500 earlier this year in a top performance for him and the team.

Joey Logano – Fantasy players who took notice of Logano prior to Sunday's Toyota Save Mart 350 should be pleased with themselves because the No. 22 scored yet another top-five finish in 2016 and his second at Sonoma. Penske Racing continues to be the best performing Ford team, and Logano has started to regain the pristine consistency that he showed in his run toward and into the Chase last season. Logano won last season's Daytona 500 and finished sixth there earlier this season. He's a driver who is on an upswing in form, and that could spell bad news for the rest of the field as the calendar counts down its final 10 races until the Chase gets underway.

Austin Dillon – In his six Daytona starts, Dillon has quickly earned the best finishing average in the field at the track. His average of 12.5 is nearly one full place better than that of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has four top-10 finishes in those six tries, and this week could be the one where we see one of the most talented young drivers to enter the series score his first win. While his race in Sonoma was lackluster, 2016 has seen some of his best career performances to date. He scored a top-10 finish at Michigan, and has three top-fives so far this year. Despite last week's trough, it would be a good bet for fantasy owners to seriously consider Dillon this week in Daytona.

DOWNGRADE

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – A great afternoon turned to waste late for Earnhardt in Sonoma. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had been running at the front of the field throughout the race but was side-slammed by Carl Edwards with less than 15 laps remaining. The damage to his front fender caused a huge tire rub and ended Earnhardt's visions of a charge forward for the win. Instead he heads to Daytona knowing that his last time at the track he failed to finish with one of the best cars in the field. While Earnhardt will undoubtedly be a favorite heading into this week's race, he was also the favorite before crashing out of the Daytona 500 earlier this season.

Jamie McMurray – Despite having a fast car in practice, McMurray sabotaged his effort on Sunday by speeding on pit road. He was one of the first to pay with a drive-through penalty, and he rejoined the race at the back of the field as cars cycled through initial stops. He finished 17th when all was said and done, and he has just one top-10 finish from his last four races, which isn't enough from a driver with the potential we believe McMurray has. At Daytona McMurray has won both the Daytona 500 and the Pepsi 400, but his last victory came back in 2010. His best result since was seventh in the 2013 Pepsi 400.

Clint Bowyer – If there was ever a race weekend where Bowyer should have been able to reverse his trend of poor performances it should have been Sonoma. The reversal didn't happen, though. Bowyer was eliminated from competition early in Sunday's race with a fire, and he was classified last in the field at a track that had been one of his best. It was arguably his last hope to revive a dismal season, and next year may be the only chance for him to see improvement. He finished 33rd in the Daytona 500 earlier this season after starting 31st, and so far this season the team has shown no speed that would suggest Bowyer may have a chance at redemption this week.

A.J. Allmendinger – Yet again, bad luck ruined Allmendinger's ability to convert a strong car into a strong finish at Sonoma. This time it was an uncontrolled tire that caused him to suffer a penalty and drop to the back of the field for the final restart of the race. Prior to the penalty, he was one of the few drivers battling for the win, but afterward he was 26th and working his way forward with the miles counting down. He has one more road course this season to seal the deal, but Daytona this week presents an entirely different challenge. Allmendinger's best finish at the track was third in 2009, and he has just one top-10 finish there since.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kurt Busch – Despite Busch heading into Sunday's race as the favorite, he barely made an impact at the front of the field. He started in fourth and finished in 10th, which are good results for the team but a disappointment for those who considered him the odds-on favorite before Sunday's green flag. Busch has a 2016 win, which gives him a spot in the Chase, but he hasn't consistently been able to lead the amount of laps that would cement him as one of the season's top contenders. The team has 10 more races to improve before the Chase begins, but right now Busch could be considered a longshot to win his second title. Despite that, his 12 career top-fives at Daytona make him a top choice for fantasy rosters this holiday weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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