Race Rewind: Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 23, 2013 

Observations

• In recent years, the road course races in NASCAR have become some of the most exciting as far as on-track action and Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway didn't disappoint. The cool temperatures and overcast skies vastly altered the track dynamic and combined with double file restarts, various fuel strategies and the usual giving and not-so-much taking among drivers, there was a lot of action. And the race ended with a surprise winner - all the ingredients many race fans like to see.

• While Jeff Gordon remains statistically as competitive as ever, this season more than any other it seems it takes he and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team most of the race to get to where he is competitive with the race leaders. Many times that still pays off, as it did Sunday with a second-place finish. The Gordon of old - leading a lot of laps, dictating the pace and decisions of his competitors - seems to be growing less frequent. No idea if that is as a result of time or race circumstances or team chemistry.

• If Kurt Busch could close the deal with a victory at least once in the coming weeks, he could well put himself into position for a possible Chase berth this season. For an organization that is already setting records weekly for performance, that would be an even bigger coup.

Notebook

Harraka has adventurous debut: Paulie Harraka's day went South even before the green flag dropped. He slammed into the back of Alex Kennedy on pit road when Kennedy stopped suddenly because David Reutimann stopped in front of him.

"Somebody two cars ahead of me decided to stop in the go lane and why he did that I have absolutely no idea, but these cars don't stop very well on the wet asphalt," he said.

Harraka also blew a tire later in the race and finished 39th. "I don't know what to say except that stuff happens," he said.

Edwards road improvement: Carl Edwards had one of his most productive race weekends at a road course as a Sprint Cup driver. He qualified third and finished third and remains second in the series standings.

"We have done a lot of work and there are a lot of people who have contributed a bunch as a group. Our whole Ford group has tried different parts and tested different things," Edwards said.

"We've leaned on Marcos Ambrose a lot and his expertise in road racing, and I think you saw that in qualifying and in the race with myself, Greg (Biffle) and Marcos all qualifying in the top four. That's a pretty big feat for us and to be running as well as we did."

Heartbreak again: Juan Pablo Montoya may not have been able to win Sunday, but he looked like he would finish no worse than second. That was before he ran out of fuel on the last lap, which left him with a 34th place finish.

"It's heartbreak for me and everybody on the team," he said. "You've got to defend them in the way that when they do the fuel calculations based on other runs, in the other runs you're stuck in traffic and can't run that hard.

"Then you get in clean air and they're asking me to run as hard as I can, and I'm doing that, you're going to use a little more fuel. It should have been a little smarter."

New qualifiers: With his pole on Friday, Jamie McMurray qualified for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited - the unofficial season opener at Daytona International Speedway. With his win, Martin Truex Jr. is locked in next season's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

5 key moments

1 . Before the race started, the race had its share of drama. David Reutimann came to an abrupt stop on pit road as cars exited for pace laps and Alex Kennedy then stopped quickly behind him. Paulie Harraka then slammed into Kennedy's car.

2 . Martin Truex Jr. showed he had a fast car when he moved into the lead for the first time on Lap 41 once Brad Keselowski pit for fuel and tires. He led the next 21 laps.

3 . Tony Stewart slammed into the back of Denny Hamlin on Lap 68 doing damage to both drivers' cars and ending any shot at the win for either.

4. Truex took over the lead on Lap 83 from Jeff Gordon when he was one of 15 drivers to stay out on the track and not pit under caution.

5. Any chance Juan Pablo Montoya had to run down Truex for the win came to an abrupt halt when he ran out of fuel on the last lap.

Next race

Quaker State 400

Where: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, Ky.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

TV: TNT

Radio: Performance Racing Network

Last year's winner: Brad Keselowski



Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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