Sonoma is Make-or-Break Race for Three Drivers in the Top 20

By Kevin Van Pelt

Ever since NASCAR implemented the new wild-card format to the chase, where the two drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins makes the chase, drivers have felt like they have had a chance to make the playoffs up until the last week in the regular season at Richmond.

For some drivers, they circle the two road-course races on their calendar as their best opportunities to get into victory lane and the chase this season.

A driver such as Marcos Ambrose is the perfect example of this. While he desperately wants to get a win on an oval track, he knows that this is his best shot at winning. He currently sits 17th in the points and virtually has no shot at getting into the top 10. His performances have been strong at times,but not consistent enough to be a real threat week after week.

Also, Ambrose is behind four drivers outside the 10 who have wins already this season. This means that it might take two wins for a driver in Ambrose’s position to make the chase. With two road-course races before the chase, Ambrose has to pounce on the opportunity he has before him and take both of those victories. This is obviously easier said than done, as the competition on road courses has gotten much better over the last decade. However, Ambrose should still be the favorite heading into this weekend to get his first victory of the season.

The driver two spots behind Ambrose in points is Juan Pablo Montoya. He is coming off his second top 10 of the season, finishing eighth at Michigan, and Montoya looks to continue his momentum with a win at Sonoma. He has two career victories and they both came on road courses. Montoya has struggled for the last two seasons and he is a driver who needs a win as much as anyone right now. A win will not only put him in chase contention, but it might also keep him around at Chip Ganassi Racing. Montoya is under contract for next year, but if he continues to have sluggish performances, he may find himself out of a ride with Ganassi.

Montoya’s teammate Jamie McMurray sits 18th in points and is having a similar season to his teammate. McMurray is one of the most underrated road-course racers in the garage area and he should be a threat this weekend. He has a couple strong tracks coming up for him and believe it or not has a great chance to win a race in the next couple weeks.

Sonoma is a different animal for the Sprint Cup Series drivers. It provides a host of new drivers and teams that are favorites to win the race. It is an opportunity race for a handful of drivers as they know this might be there only chance to get into victory lane and make a run towards the chase.


Follow me on Twitter @kevin_vanpelt10

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