NASCAR Barometer: Busch Takes Sonoma

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Takes Sonoma

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch bagged half of what he needed to make the 2015 Chase by winning at Sonoma Raceway. Busch has only been back in the series for five races after suffering multiple broken bones in the season—opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. He now has the win that would punch his Chase passport, but still needs to work his way into the top-30 in points.

Sunday's race was emblematic of many road course races. It featured tight racing through every corner, door-to-door battles, and pit strategy. The fastest cars throughout the distance belonged to Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, but it was Kyle who had the edge in the final miles. He held off Clint Bowyer after wresting the lead away from the No. 48, and was too much for his brother to chase down.

The second half of the season begins this week in Daytona Florida. The series returns for the traditional July 4th weekend event, and many drivers who need a win to enter the Chase will have circled this date on their calendar. The race can be a chance for a long shot to force his way to the front, or for a favorite to dominate. Either way, the race is sure to be one to remember.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch - Busch started Sunday's Sonoma race in 11th position, and came on strong in the closing laps to take his second win at the track. He may still be short of guaranteeing himself a spot in the

Kyle Busch bagged half of what he needed to make the 2015 Chase by winning at Sonoma Raceway. Busch has only been back in the series for five races after suffering multiple broken bones in the season—opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona. He now has the win that would punch his Chase passport, but still needs to work his way into the top-30 in points.

Sunday's race was emblematic of many road course races. It featured tight racing through every corner, door-to-door battles, and pit strategy. The fastest cars throughout the distance belonged to Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, but it was Kyle who had the edge in the final miles. He held off Clint Bowyer after wresting the lead away from the No. 48, and was too much for his brother to chase down.

The second half of the season begins this week in Daytona Florida. The series returns for the traditional July 4th weekend event, and many drivers who need a win to enter the Chase will have circled this date on their calendar. The race can be a chance for a long shot to force his way to the front, or for a favorite to dominate. Either way, the race is sure to be one to remember.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch - Busch started Sunday's Sonoma race in 11th position, and came on strong in the closing laps to take his second win at the track. He may still be short of guaranteeing himself a spot in the Chase, but arguably the hardest part of that mission is now in the bag. He will now aim to avoid any DNFs in the remaining races before the Chase in order to climb into the top-30 in points before his ticket can be official. Busch has done all that he needs to do so far, but the rest starts this week in Daytona. He won this race in 2008, but has four DNFs since that effort. He'll need to banish that acronym from his vocabulary for the remainder of the season.

Kurt Busch -
Busch drove the wheels off of his car to come home with a top finish last week in Sonoma. The Michigan winner literally drove his car off of the track and through the grass trying to make ground on the leaders, but held on to his position in the top-5. Busch has never won at Daytona, but does have 14 top-10 finishes from 28 career starts at the superspeedway. He is one of the best restrictor-plate racers in the series, and will be looking to add another win to his 2015 season this week.

Jeff Gordon -
Gordon survived a pit penalty to score a top result in an up and down day at Sonoma last week. The veteran in his final year of full-time competition endured an endless amount of bad luck in the first half of the season, but may have put that behind him after last week's effort. Gordon was as low as 40th last week, but found himself solidly inside the top-5 in the closing laps.

Joey Logano -
Last week's road course race may be some light at the end of the tunnel for Penske Racing. Logano scored his third consecutive top-5 finish on Sunday after the team dipped from their early-season form. Logano started deep in the field after not showing much speed throughout practice and qualifying, but raced his way into another top finish for the team that has struggled in recent weeks. What makes last week's performance even better is that Logano returns to the scene of his win earlier this season this week, Daytona International Speedway. Prior to his win from February he only scored three other top-10 finishes at the track and is struggling at this point in the season, but circumstances appear to be improving.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. - An unfortunate incident in the esses ended Truex's afternoon at Sonoma Raceway. The driver who has only failed to finish inside the top-10 once so far this season tasted his second poor result of the year after colliding with David Ragan and finding himself in the tire barrier. Ending the race in the wall was a disappointment for the team that built a car specifically for road courses, and felt they could have contended for the win. Instead, Truex is looking ahead to Daytona and the second half of the season where they will hone their sharpness in a bid to come out on top of the Chase at the end of the season.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth's bad luck at Sonoma Raceway continued last week. He endured a flat tire that shredded itself before he was able to replace it. The tire damaged his rear fender, and was the result of a loose chassis. Things should get better for Kenseth next week, though. He is a two-time winner at Daytona, but that last victory came back in 2012. In fact, his last five races at the track have only granted him one top-10 finish. Kenseth has been an inconsistent play for most of 2015, which is very different than it was last season. After a rough effort at Sonoma it may be difficult for Kenseth to pick himself up next week at Daytona.

Carl Edwards -
A decent afternoon was thwarted by contact with David Ragan last week in Sonoma. The former winner at the track hit the curb in the esses, which threw his chassis into the side of Ragan and then into the wall. The damage to both cars was severe, and Edwards sat idle until he was forced to get out and have the car towed. It has been a difficult first season with Joe Gibbs Racing for him, and Daytona isn't one of his best tracks. His average finish at the track is 19.2, and after last week's disappointment it would be hard to picture him having a breakout performance at the track. Edwards is currently in the Chase, and should be focusing on improvements before the playoffs begin.

A.J. Allmendinger -
What should have been a week to sneak a win and earn a spot in the Chase turned out to be a disappointing outing. Allmendinger started Sunday's road course race at the front of the field, but couldn't hold off Kurt Busch in the opening turns. That trend only go worse as his engine suffered trouble, forcing him behind the wall and 12 laps down to the rest of the field before returning to the race. Allmendinger is one of the best on road courses in the series, but couldn't get the job done last week. He has one top-5 at Daytona and could use a good run to gain some more confidence for the second half of the season.

Casey Mears -
One of his best starts at Sonoma amounted to little for Mears last week. His eighth-place start was as good as the week would get. Mears found himself falling backward in the field shortly after the green flag waved, and eventually ended the race by losing his rear wheel and hub coming off of the final turn. Mears must be wondering what he left on the table last week. Could it have been his best finish of the season? It was certainly a good opportunity that was missed. Mears has just two top-5s and six top-10s from 22 career starts at Daytona, and it would be difficult to expect him to deliver a top result this week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Sam Hornish Jr. - Though he wasn't discussed during last week's race broadcast, Hornish turned in one of the more impressive performances of the afternoon. He started deep in the field in 24th position, but worked his way forward without making any mistakes to score his second top-10 finish of the season. His only other top-10 performance came at Talladega Superspeedway in May, another restrictor-plate track like this week's race at Daytona. Hornish has struggled in his return to Sprint Cup racing, but shows promise on certain tracks. He finished 12th at Daytona in February, and this circuit could be another opportunity for him to show his full potential. Signs of improvement are starting to be seen from this team.

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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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