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Kyle Larson seeks repeat at Sonoma NASCAR race

NASCAR AT SONOMA

Toyota/Save Mart 350

Sunday

Start time: 1 p.m.

For full weekend schedule, ticket information and more, see sonomaraceway.com

It’s once again time for the stock cars of the NASCAR Cup Series to wind around Sonoma Raceway’s 10-turn road course in the heart of wine country.

The biggest on-track change facing drivers in Sunday’s race? The chute layout is returning, replacing the carousel configuration that was revived in recent years. The chute features a dog leg bend into turn 4a and out of 7a, eliminating four tight turns between those two.

That means the race will go from the shorter 90 laps of recent incarnations to the classic 110-lap distance that has been a staple most years at Sonoma since the late 1990s. It was changed when the track brought back the carousel for its 50th anniversary race in 2019 and for the 2021 race.

The last driver to win on the chute course was Martin Truex Jr., who won in 2018 and then repeated on the carousel in 2019. The race at Sonoma was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kyle Larson won last year’s contest, one of his 10 victories of the season en route to his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. Larson won from the pole last year, his fourth straight top start at Sonoma, and will be looking for a fifth straight in qualifying on Saturday.

The Northern California native currently sits in seventh in the Cup standings but has already won a race this season, guaranteeing him a spot in this year’s playoffs after February’s victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. He’s one of 11 different winners after 15 races this season.

Joey Logano is one of four multiple-race winners so far in 2022 after his victory at World Wide Technology Raceway — formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park — just outside of St. Louis this past weekend. Logano’s victory came after crash- and vengeance-filled competition throughout the race, mostly surrounding another multiple-race winner, Ross Chastain.

Chastain spun out Denny Hamlin early in Sunday’s contest, forcing him into the wall and all but ruining any chance of Hamlin winning. Hamlin returned to the track several laps down and although he didn’t wreck Chastain, he made it as hard as possible for Chastain to pass him the rest of the race.

A few laps later, Chastain then tapped current points leader Chase Elliott while the two were racing deep in the field. On the next restart, Elliot proceeded to shove Chastain over almost into the wall. That was followed by Hamlin trying to slow down Chastain for a few laps.

The conflict could carry over to this weekend at Sonoma. Chastain was apologetic after Sunday’s race but said he understands retaliation may be on his competitors’ minds.

“We all have had to learn the hard way,” Hamlin said after Sunday’s race, also adding a warning to Chastain. “He’s been very successful doing what he’s doing, but ultimately the sport is self-policing. When you least expect it and when it means the most is when it comes around.”

Chastain comes into Sonoma having won the only road course event so far this season at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, his first Cup series win. He followed that up with a victory in the Geico 500 at Talladega.

This season is by far his best run in what amounts to his fourth season as a Cup regular, with seven top-five finishes and nine top 10s driving for Trackhouse Racing, which is owned in part by rapper Pitbull. Chastain previously raced in the Xfinity and truck series and finished second in the truck points standings in 2019.

This weekend will also see the truck series returning to Sonoma Raceway for the first time since 1998, a 24-year break. The DoorDash 250 trucks race will be part of a doubleheader with the ARCA Menards Series West on Saturday, with Cup qualifying also in the mix at the raceway.

Notable Cup series regulars who will also race in the trucks race include former Cup series champion Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Harrison Burton, Alex Bowman and Chastain. The four previous trucks winners from the 1990s at Sonoma — Ron Hornaday Jr, Dave Rezendes, Joe Ruttman and Boris Said — will be grand marshals for Saturday’s race.

Saturday’s packed schedule at the track starts with truck qualifying at 10 a.m. The ARCA race, a 64-lap feature, will follow at 11:30 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., Cup Series drivers will practice for an hour before qualifying begins at 2:30 p.m. That will be followed by the 75-lap truck series race at 4:30 p.m.

The Toyota/Save Mart 350 will start at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

NASCAR AT SONOMA

Toyota/Save Mart 350

Sunday

Start time: 1 p.m.

For full weekend schedule, ticket information and more, see sonomaraceway.com

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