Darrell Waltrip‘s final race as a NASCAR announcer before his retirement saw Martin Truex Jr. take victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. The reigning race winner successfully defended his title in dominating fashion, leading 59 of 90 laps to take his fourth win of 2019.
The first road course race of the Monster Energy Cup Series season, the round saw the return of the “Carousel” hairpin last used in 1997 that extended the track from 1.99 miles (3.20 km) to 2.52 mi (4.06 km); of the thirty-eight drivers in the grid, Kevin Harvick had prior experience on this layout, racing on it in what is now the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 1997. With the track lengthening, pole-sitter Kyle Larson‘s 2019 lap time of 94.784 seconds was noticeably slower than his 2018 pole-winning 75.732 time. To get practice for the road course, Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece, and Austin Dillon ran the K&N Pro Series West race held on Saturday, with Preece suffering a controversial restart penalty that led to Xfinity Series regular Noah Gragson taking the win.
Alongside Larson was William Byron. Daniel Suárez (qualified fifth, engine change), Erik Jones (thirty-second, unapproved adjustments), J.J. Yeley (thirty-sixth, unapproved adjustments), and Ross Chastain (thirty-seventh, driver change) started at the rear; Kyle Weatherman qualified Chastain’s #15 Premium Motorsports car while the latter was competing in and ultimately winning the Truck race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
In addition to pre-race tributes, Waltrip was honoured by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt DiBenedetto, and David Ragan with special liveries emulating cars raced by Waltrip during his driving career. The trio started together from seventeenth to nineteenth with Stenhouse leading Ragan and DiBenedetto.
Stages #1 and #2
Larson quickly started to fall as Byron took the lead, followed by Chase Elliott passing him for second. As Larson’s drop continued, Byron’s lead over Elliott began to grow and reached a zenith of 5.6 seconds.
As the first stage neared its conclusion on lap 20, various drivers began pitting under green. During the pit cycle, Michael McDowell spun while racing Jimmie Johnson after being bumped from behind by Harvick before the downhill, but no caution was called. Elliott pitted on lap 19, while Byron stayed out to lead every lap in the stage and record his first career stage win. Denny Hamlin finished behind him, followed by Joey Logano, Larson, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, Harvick, Paul Menard, and Johnson.
Hamlin and Larson led the field off pit road, while Byron exited in third. As he and others had pitted before Stage #1 ended, Elliott became the leader to open Stage #2 ahead of Truex, while the pitters restarted outside the top fifteen.
The race resumed on lap 25 with Truex leading after Elliott went wide in turn one. On lap 28, Clint Bowyer pitted to address a loose right-rear wheel. With ten laps to go in the stage, Almirola – who was running nineteenth – went off course but continued after rejoining the track. Three laps later, Menard spun in the turn 11 hairpin after being clipped by McDowell, dealing damage to the latter’s nose. Nevertheless, no caution occurred and both remained in the race.
Green flag stops opened with less than five laps remaining in the stage. Truex pitted from the lead with three to go, which shuffled Hamlin to first. Maintaining a three-second advantage over second-placed Brad Keselowski, Hamlin won the stage. Tailing the two were Byron, Logano, Stenhouse, Larson, Truex, Elliott, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Kyle Busch.
Truex and Elliott paced the grid to the start of Stage #3 on lap 45. With a strong restart, Ryan Blaney claimed second from Elliott for the lap, but the latter fought back to retake the spot the next lap. Busch eventually took second on lap 51, but suffered damage to the nose while racing.
On lap 52, Preece spun in turn 11 after he was hit by Stenhouse. The following lap, McDowell went around in turn 10, prompting him to pit.
The final series of stops under green took place starting lap 59. When Elliott pitted two laps later, he lost power as his oil pressure dipped, forcing him to the garage and out of race contention with an engine failure. Meanwhile, Yeley retired from the race with a fuel pump issue. Yeley’s Rick Ware Racing team-mate Cody Ware also exited the event after suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, though he was quickly attended to. Truex pitted on lap 63, while Busch remained on track to take the lead. Suárez suffered an uncontrolled tyre penalty on his stop.
Busch pitted on lap 66, which cycled the lead to Hamlin before he did the same, shuffling the position back to Truex. By lap 70, Truex’s lead over Busch was seven seconds; the two would isolate themselves from the rest of the field. As the race entered its final laps, DiBenedetto cracked the top five for his strongest road course run to date.
With six laps to go, Truex began encountering lapped traffic fighting for their respective positions, hindering his progress. Regardless, he kept his lead over Busch, with the two holding a margin of nearly 30 seconds over third place and beyond. Busch could not catch Truex as the #19 scored his second straight win at Sonoma and the twenty-third of his career. Blaney finished third, while DiBenedetto ended his day with a career-best fourth.
Hamlin rounded out the top five, while Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jones, Almirola, and Larson comprised the second half of the top ten.