As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares to head west for the first of two road-course events on the 2015 schedule, here are five drivers with a real chance to go to Victory Lane in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. We start with the driver least likely to prevail among the five contenders, and work our way to No. 1.
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
5. Kevin Harvick
Although he’s never won at Sonoma, Kevin Harvick is widely considered one of the Sprint Cup Series’ best road racers. And with good reason. He’s finished in the top 10 on 12 occasions over a combined 28 starts on the Sprint Cup Series’ two road courses – Sonoma and Watkins Glen International in New York. Harvick picked up his lone road-course win at the Glen in 2006 while competing for Richard Childress Racing. The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion has been stellar in 2015, amassing 13 top-10 finishes, including two wins, in 15 starts, but is hungry to get back to Victory Lane after having not won since Phoenix in Mid-March.
Getty ImagesTom Pennington
4. Martin Truex Jr.
No one comes to Northern California any hotter than Martin Truex Jr., who is the only driver in Sprint Cup Series competition this season to record 14 top-10 finishes in the 15 races. Truex went to Victory Lane in the Wine Country two years ago with his former team at Michael Waltrip Racing, and there’s no good reason to believe he won’t factor heavily into Sunday’s outcome.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesTodd Warshaw
3. Jeff Gordon
In what figures to be an emotional final start at one of the two places he considers a home race, Vallejo, California native Jeff Gordon could be primed for something special on Sunday afternoon. Needing to win one of the next 11 races to solidify a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in last full season, the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion probably has no better opportunity to get it done than this weekend as he returns to a track where he is not only a five-time winner but also a fan-favorite.
SPORTING NEWSHAROLD HINSON FOR SN
2. AJ Allmendinger
A former driver in multiple open-wheel series who boasts more laps on road courses that many of his Sprint Cup Series counterparts, AJ Allmendinger showcased his road-course process in a big way last August when he scored his first career win and locked up a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with his impressive drive to victory at Watkins Glen International. This weekend, Allmendinger finds himself in a situation similar to the one he faced last year: Needing a win to get in the Chase. Among the drivers who don’t typically contend for wins on a weekly basis, Allmendinger has the best shot at Sonoma.
Getty ImagesBrian Lawdermilk
1. Kurt Busch
Fresh off a win two weekends ago in the rain-shortened race at Michigan, Kurt Busch arrives in Northern California not only carrying the momentum of that victory but also with the confidence of knowing that he is – unquestionably – one of the Sprint Cup Series’ most skilled road racers. In his last four trips to Sonoma, Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, has a win and a total of three finishes inside the top four. Not a bad record at all.