After having last weekend off for Father’s Day, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) will be back in action this week as NASCAR heads west to race at Sonoma Raceway. As the season resumes out in wine country on Sunday, you’ll notice how different Sonoma – a road course – is than most of the tracks that NASCAR visits during the year.
During the 36-race MENCS season, the series only races on three road courses – Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen International and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, which has been coined the Roval. Sonoma is
certainly unique in its own right, but it also shares many characteristics with other road courses in NASCAR.
As you tune in on Sunday, all the features of Sonoma specifically and road courses in general will immediately stick out.
The first thing that will jump out is the number of turns on the course and the changes in elevation. This year, Sonoma will have 12 turns thanks to the highly anticipated return of its signature corner known as “The Carousel.” The Carousel is an iconic piece of Sonoma Raceway and has produced some historic moments in the track history such as in 1995 when Dale Earnhardt Sr. passed Mark Martin in The Carousel en route to his first NASCAR road course win.
The Carousel will be one of the most difficult parts of the winding layout as it runs steep downhill and is comprised of the one of the track’s most difficult turns to navigate. Altogether, Sonoma features more than 160 feet of elevation change, the most of any track in NASCAR – besting Watkins Glen International, which comes in second at 141 feet.
Another thing you will notice is the length of the track. Sonoma features a 2.52-mile layout, the second-longest lap on the Cup series behind only Talladega Superspeedway. Even the Roval, which lies within the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway is more than two miles in length.
In fact, similar to the Roval, we have a road course here at Homestead-Miami Speedway that gets utilized by many of our other racing series that come to the track. It is a 14-turn, 2.21 mile layout that incorporates both the front and back stretches, before weaving through the infield where you would normally see things like motorhomes and haulers during Ford Championship Weekend.
With all of the twists and turns on road courses, these races display the widest change of speeds in NASCAR as a driver is more focused on the precision and handling of the car in each turn rather than just trying to drive as fast as possible. On Sunday, you’ll see drivers reach nearly 150 miles per hour before slamming on the brakes and slowing the car down to 40 miles per hour.
With the change in speeds and the long track, the broadcast will likely point out how often a driver is changing gears. During oval track races, drivers hardly have to shift gears unless they’re coming down pit road or lining up side by side in the restart zone. But at Sonoma on Sunday, the drivers will change gears nearly 1,000 times as they maneuver through the various portions of the raceway.
Due to all of the turns and gear shifts, road courses are typically some of the most grueling dates on the NASCAR calendar. It becomes exhausting for drivers to constantly be reaching down by their side to change gears, while also having to immediately reach back up and turn the wheel as far as it will go from side to side on the sharp turns.
Add in the element of dry heat that Sunday’s race will undoubtedly provide during these California summer months and there will be plenty of talk about how fatigue will affect the drivers late in the race. As difficult as the track may be, a driver making sure they are properly conditioned and hydrated before the race even begins presents a challenge in itself. Some obstacles though are impossible to plan for, such as last year when Ryan Blaney lost his power steering at Sonoma, leading to cramps in his forearms and causing him to go several laps down.
So as you watch on Sunday, pay attention to the many differences that make road course racing so unique and entertaining. Having a few road races each season is a great way give fans even more exciting racing each season. And of course, it also adds another challenge for the drivers on their quest to winning a championship right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND
Sunday, June 23 at 3:00 PM (ET)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Tune In: FS1 and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is off this weekend and will return to action Saturday, June 29 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Saturday, June 22 at 10:00 PM (ET)
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series CarShield 200 presented by CK Power at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway
SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
June 22-23 Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)
June 29-30 Formula & Automobile Racing Association (FARA)
July 4 City of Homestead’s Race to the 4th
July 12 Fast Lane Friday
July 12 Florida Track Days
2019 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
Nov. 15 Ford EcoBoost 200 Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship Race
Nov. 16 Ford EcoBoost 300 Xfinity Series Championship Race
Nov. 17 Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship Race
2020 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Race
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race
NASCAR Cup Series Race