This week the Cup Series heads back to the West Coast. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway will be the second road course event of the year. NASCAR will be running 110 laps on the short version of Sonoma which is 1.99-miles long. The track features 12 turns, both left and right. Drivers will also have to contend with160ft of elevation change between the highest and lowest points on the course.
Last year, with Toyota struggling on road courses the Fords were the class of the field. While Daniel Suarez won the event in a Chevy, six of the Top 10 drivers in last year event were from the Ford camp. Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell paced the Fords, finishing second and third respectively. The two also led the series with regards to number of laps completed inside the Top 10. Both completed 106 of 110 laps inside the Top 10. With Toyota making gains in 2023 as demonstrated at COTA I expect a somewhat more level playing field this year.
Handicapping Sonoma Performance
As we try to handicap this race its also important to remember that not all road courses are created equal. There are some drivers, such as Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Tyler Reddick who tend to perform very well at all road courses. However, each track does have its own unique style of racing. This can mean the blindly looking at “road courses” might mislead you.
In addition to road course performance, recent non-drafting oval performance is also very important. Ignoring how a driver has performed over the past few weeks at Gateway, Charlotte, and even Darlington is a critical mistake that many new bettors will make when tackling this race. So, with that out of the way, lets get to the picks.
Michael McDowell Top Ford and Top 10 | +800 (MGM) and +130 (MGM)
When most NASCAR fans think of Michael McDowell they likely think his top tier performances come at Daytona and Talladega. McDowell is a good drafting racer, his win in the 2021 Daytona 500 is a testimony to that. But he is also a very good road course racer, particularly in the Gen 7 car.
McDowell has been among the most consistent road course performers in the Gen 7 car. He has the third most laps completed inside the Top 10 (as % of laps the driver has completed). His 71.48% of laps inside the Top 10 is behind only Chase Elliott and Tyler Reddick. He has been incredibly consistent across all tracks too. He has over 70% of his laps inside the Top 10 at every race other than the two races at COTA. No other driver in the field this weekend can make the same claim. McDowell also leads all Fords in Top 5% at 32.8% and Top 3% at 16.75%.
McDowell has also been performing reasonably well on the ovals lately. Last week at Gateway he finished ninth. He didn’t have the fastest car early, but used pit strategy to gain track position which he was then able to hold onto. As track position will likely be very important this weekend this bodes well for McDowell going forward.
McDowell should absolutely be priced more in line with the favorites to finish Top Ford given this history. The +1000 that I was able to get at BetFred on Wednesday when I first published this article was an absolute gift. But +800, which is available at MGM or +750 at Bet365 is still value if you didn’t jump on this bet before.
For these same reasons, I like McDowell to finish inside the Top 10 at +130 also available at MGM. On Thursday I had said I was OK down to +135, but having looked at some more data I’m comfortable with this down to +115 which is still available at FanDuel.