Toyota Save Mart 350 – Sonoma Raceway

While Sonoma, California may be known for its peaceful vineyards, sweeping countryside, and beautiful coastline, the county also has a wild side that’s filled with aggressive racing, bad crashes, and a whole lot of adrenaline. Luckily, the Toyota Save Mart 350 had all.

Under sunny skies, pole sitter Kyle Larson led the field to the green flag for the first road course race of the year. He led for 10 laps before he fell to 4th place and halfway through the first stage, tangled with Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Coming into Turn #11, Danica Patrick and Jr were racing side by side  when Jr wheel hopped and abruptly turned right into the corner. While drafting back onto the track, he tapped the 42 of Larson in the right rear and was then tapped by Patrick who couldn’t avoid Jr in the middle of the track.

The wreck caused a caution as well as plenty of pit strategies as 9 drivers stayed out in hopes of scoring a stage win. The race restarted with 10 laps to go and teammates AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher battled back and forth before Allmendinger comfortably secured the lead. Ultimately, however, Martin Truex Jr fought through the field and notched his 11th stage win of the season. Allmendinger finished the stage P2, but was caught up in a few spins and wrecks throughout the day that put him P35 and 5 laps down when the checked flag finally flew.

Oddly enough, Stage 2 played out like Stage 1 with the same 3 drivers entwined halfway through the stage. Coming into Turn 7, Kyle Larson pushed Earnhardt Jr up the track in the middle of the corner, Jr unintentionally drove into Danica Patrick, who had been on his outside, and spun her out. This time, when Patrick spun, she collided boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  Earnhardt and Patrick were able to recover and finish the race in P6 and P17 respectfully. On the other hand, Stenhouse ended the day P38 with a DNF and Larson finished 26th, 1 lap down.

With 12 to go in Stage 2, the caution flag flew again for debris. When the drivers restarted, Jimmie Johnson took off with the lead and went on to win the segment.

The final stage was accident-free… but not incident-free. Martin Truex Jr, who led a race-high of 25 laps and was a favorite for the win, didn’t end up finishing the race thanks his engine which expired on Lap 86 causing him to go to the garage with a DNF.

Kevin Harvick saved enough fuel to be at the right place at the right time. With over 8 seconds between him and second place, Harvick crossed the finish line just as the caution came out for Kasey Kahne. Coming through Turn 9, Kahne made slight contact with the No. 15 of Kevin O’Connell and sent himself hard into the wall. So hard, in fact, that the wall was physically moved.

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