Toyota/Save Mart 350: NorCal native makes late pass, wins in wine country

SONOMA – Kyle Larson passed both Chris Buescher and Martin Truex Jr. with nine laps to go then held on to capture a thrilling Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday, earning his third NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season.

Larson, an Elk Grove native running on fresher tires, passed Buescher in Turn 3 at Sonoma Raceway and quickly overtook Truex in Turn 4.

Larson was steady from there as he held off Truex and earned his second career victory on the wine country road course for Hendrick Motorsports. He also won in 2021, his first year with the longtime powerhouse organization.

Truex, a four-time winner in Sonoma, was second, and Buescher was looking for his first road course victory, was third.

Buescher held off Truex as Larson, who won the race in 2021, steadily gained ground on fresher tires after a pit stop. But shortly after Truex passes Buescher, Larson made his move to jump from third to first.

Drivers who were curious to see how a repaved track and increased speeds at Sonoma would affect the overall race got their answer early on.

Thanks to seven yellow flags, 18 of the first 40 laps were run under caution as three drivers, Denny Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, and Austin Dillon, were all knocked out of the race for various reasons. The afternoon for Hamlin, who began Sunday as the Cup Series leader, ended after three laps with a blown engine.

A sizeable wreck took place on Lap 34. Josh Berry, after he was nudged from behind, drove into traffic in the hairpin Turn 11, causing damage to at least seven cars.

In a new feature at Sonoma Raceway, to keep cars on the track around Turn 11, a wall of concrete barriers was set up around the hairpin. This left little wiggle room for drivers to try to outrun their competition and pass on the inside. The walls also eliminated most of the visibility drivers once had around the turn.

Also, this winter, the track was repaved entirely for the first time in over two decades, although the track needed some repairs after parts of the asphalt came apart earlier this year.

The course was smooth, some drivers said before Sunday, but there were still questions about how the track would hold up under the weight of heavy NASCAR traffic.

Still, the repaved track improved tire grip and lead to faster lap times in Friday’s practice session and during Saturday’s qualifying. Joey Logano won the pole for Sunday’s race with a lap speed of 97.771 mph, which was more than five seconds faster than the lap run by Hamlin (92.178) last year to win the pole.

“I definitely had a lot of concerns coming in, I have some friends who do some of the road racing stuff and they come out here and run and just said how bad it was coming apart,” Chase Elliott said Friday.

“That was concerning, right, because our cars are way heavier than most of these other series. But I didn’t see anything visually on the track and I’m sure they will inspect it later. But I was super concerned coming here and honestly now feel a lot better.”

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