Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; Toyota / Save Mart 350
TRACK: Sonoma Raceway
DRIVER: Matt Kenseth
CAR: No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota Camry
POINTS POSITION: 423 total points for the season; 12th in the driver point standings following the race
NASCAR’s top series traveled to California’s wine country for the season’s first road course event at Sonoma Raceway. The 1.99-mile complex course is very challenging for many drivers since tire wear and pit strategy often come into play, along with trying to stay on course and having a clean race. The No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry had an issue with oil pressure on Friday afternoon, so the team opted to change out the motor between the practice sessions. According to the rulebook, whenever a motor is changed, the car must start from the rear of the field. Kenseth started the race from 38th, and was able to drive his way into the top three by the end of Stage 2, but when no cautions came in the final half of the race, many team’s pit strategies took a hit. Kenseth finished 20th despite having a fast DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry that had driven its way up into the top three during the race.
Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 took the green flag at 12:22 p.m. PST to start the 110-lap event along the 1.99-mile road course. Kenseth and his No. 20 machine made the most of the opening lap of the race as the DEWALT Camry improved eight spots. By lap 11, Kenseth was up to 20th as he patiently continued to knock off positions one at a time.
The first caution of the day came on lap 14 and allowed Kenseth an opportunity to discuss with crew chief Jason Ratcliff the fact that the DEWALT Camry was “not bad overall, but just loses grip as I run.” Ratcliff told his driver that the lap times prior to the caution were just three tenths off the leaders, which was impressive for being stuck back in traffic. Ratcliff made the call to stay out under the yellow in an effort to make up track position, and the decision found Kenseth line up in fourth for the restart.
Kenseth was able to maintain positioning within the top 10 until lap 21 as the race was approaching the end of Stage 1. Ratcliff opted to hit pit road for service on lap 23 ahead of the Stage 1 conclusion at lap 25, so the DEWALT Camry came in for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment with Kenseth running in 12th at the time.
Stage 2 took the green flag to begin lap 30 with Kenseth scored in 12th at the time. The No. 20 was able to improve to seventh before a caution came on lap 38 for debris. Once again, Ratcliff chose to stay out under the yellow flag, and Kenseth improved to fourth for the restart. On lap 42, Kenseth took over third when a series of green-flag stops began to cycle as teams prepared for the end of Stage 2.
The caution flag waved after lap 50 to signal the end of the stage and Kenseth radioed in to his team “I wouldn’t mess with it much” as the team prepped for their pit stop. Four tires, fuel, and a round of air pressure adjustments were made to the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry, as teams all opted for varying pit strategies under the yellow flag. Kenseth lined up in 25th for the restart with 55 laps remaining in the race.
As tires began to wear out into the green-flag run, Kenseth was able to improve to 18th before a round of stops began to cycle around lap 68. The No. 20 came in for service on lap 69 and settled in to 14th by lap 81. The green-flag run continued as teams were hoping to catch a caution in order to help with pit strategy, but one never came in the final stage of the race.
Kenseth hit pit road for his final stop of the afternoon on lap 92 for four tires and fuel and cycled back into 22nd. Kenseth was spun by the No. 43 car as the two were jockeying for position, but Kenseth was able to stay out of harm’s way and maintain his spot on the leaderboard following the contact. In the end, the cautions never came in the final half of the race in order to help Kenseth reclaim his positioning within the top-10, and he was scored with a 20th-place finish.
Kevin Harvick drove off with the win on Sunday afternoon earning his first career series victory at Sonoma. Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five finishers Sunday. Kenseth finished 20th in his No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry and remains 12th in the driver point standings as the series returns to the historic high banks of Daytona International Speedway next weekend.