Daniel Suarez will return to the scene of his only NASCAR Cup Series victory this weekend, and he will do so with considerable momentum from his top-10 run last Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Suarez won last year’s event at Sonoma Raceway by 3.849 seconds over runner-up Chris Buescher, and he’ll try to defend that triumph in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Sonoma Raceway is one of six road courses on the Cup Series schedule this year — including the Chicago Street Course — and Suarez feels he ready for the challenge of defending his win.
“Definitely, man,” said the driver of the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet. “Every time we head to a road course, whether it’s Sonoma or somewhere else, I am excited. I feel at home, and I am excited to go back to a place where we had great memories last time, and hopefully we can repeat it.
“Sunday’s race at St. Louis was great for us. It was a good, solid run from start to finish. We just need to build on it.”
In fact, Suarez showed excellent speed throughout last Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300, finishing 10th in the first stage, fifth in the second stage and seventh at the checkered flag. Suarez comes to Sonoma 16th in the series standings, on the bubble when it comes to making the Playoffs on points.
Suarez recalls the final moments of his breakthrough victory with crystalline clarity. He is the only Mexican driver to win in NASCAR’s premier division.
“I was just trying to stay calm,” he said. “I knew that it was a big stake on the line, but I was trying to stay calm. I was silent. I wanted to do my thing. I didn’t want too much noise on the radio. I knew what I had to do.
“I would say after the white flag is when I got out of control. I just started crying inside the helmet, just thinking about it. Especially because I had a big gap. If it wasn’t a big gap, I would be focused. Since I had a big gap, I was just thinking about every single moment that has caused me to be here.”
Suarez isn’t the only driver who will come to Sonoma with a head of steam. Michael McDowell ran ninth at Gateway after recovering from an early spin, and he arrives in wine country hoping to improve on the third-place finish he achieved last year.
Road course standout Chase Elliott also makes a return at Sonoma following a one-race suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Elliott has two top fives and four top 10s in six starts at Sonoma, including a runner-up finish to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson in 2021.
–Inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Sonoma attracts double-duty drivers
NASCAR Xfinity Series regulars will have their hands full in Saturday’s DoorDash 250 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The influx of seven full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers eager to gain seat time at the 1.99-mile road course has swollen the entry list for the first-ever Xfinity race at Sonoma to 41, with only 38 spots available on the starting grid.
Foremost among the interlopers are the last two Cup Series winners at the track — Daniel Suarez (2022) and Kyle Larson (2021). Other double-duty Cup regulars are Ross Chastain, Ty Gibbs, Ty Dillon, AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola.
Though Allmendinger claimed both of his Cup Series victories and 11 of his 16 Xfinity wins on road courses, his finishes at Sonoma haven’t matched his acknowledged talent on tracks with both right and left turns.
In 11 Cup starts at Sonoma, Allmendinger has but two top 10s and an average finish of 23.5. The Los Gatos, Calif., driver hopes he can improve those numbers dramatically this weekend.
“Sonoma is always a special, important weekend for me,” Allmendinger said. “It’s near where I grew up, and I still get to see a lot of friends and family there. Quite honestly, it’s a race track that I don’t have a very good average finish. I’ve felt like I’ve always been fast there, but it hasn’t worked out.
“Being able to run both races, I’m really looking forward to it. Sonoma is a race track I’ve always wanted to win at, knowing it’s my home racetrack and I would be able to do that in front of a lot of friends and family. Hopefully, we can go back there and have some success to keep building on our program.”
Sonoma Raceway is one of eight road courses on the Xfinity Series schedule this year and the second straight. Cole Custer won last Saturday’s event at Portland International Raceway, outdueling Justin Allgaier in a close finish.
For either Custer or Allgaier to win this Saturday, however, they’ll have to beat some of the best drivers in NASCAR’s top division.
–By Reid Spencer, NASCAR NewsWire, Special to Field Level Media