CLEVELAND, Ohio — A.J. Almendinger, one of several NASCAR drivers who switched over from the IndyCar ranks, showed off his open-wheel chops during qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota-Save Mart 350 on the rare NASCAR road race circuit in Sonoma, California.
The race is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Fox Sports I, with broadcast coverage beginning at 2 p.m. You can follow the race here on NASCAR’s live scoreboard.
Almendinger is on the pole, but also in the top 10 on the starting grid is Tony Stewart, who also began his career racing without fenders. Another prime contender in the top 5 is Jeff Gordon, who has five career wins at Sonoma and is looking for his first win of the season.
For Almendinger, this is just another successful notch on his belt since being suspended from NASCAR in 2012 after failing a substance test. He raced one season in open wheel after that then returned to NASCAR, where he has been rebuilding his name and reputation ever since.
Last year Almendinger started on the front row for the Sonoma race and led the most laps, but was taken out with 35 laps to go after contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Clearly a track where he races well, Almendinger will be going for another top finish.
He has not had a top 10 finish since the third race of the season.
Here’s a guide to today’s race:
TOYOTA-SAVE MART 350
Site: Sonoma, California.
Schedule: Sunday, race, 3 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, 2-6 p.m.).
Track: Sonoma Raceway (road course, 1.99 miles).
Race distance: 218.9 miles, 110 laps.
Last year: Carl Edwards raced to his first road-course victory.
Last race: Kurt Busch won the rain-shortened race at Michigan on July 14 for his second victory of the year.
The points race: There remains a tight battle for drivers trying to finish in the top 10 standings. Currently Matt Kenseth is eighth, Kasey Kahne ninth, Jeff Gordon 10th, Kurt Busch 11th and Paul Menard 12th with just 35 points separating them. Of those drivers, only Kenseth (1) and Busch (2) have won a race this season. But the strength shows in top 10 finishes where Kenseth (9), Gordon (8) and Busch (7) are strongest.
Driver to watch: How about Tony Stewart. If there is a driver who could use a shot in the arm this season, Stewart is it. The former series champ just has not fared well in 2015, sitting 26th in the standings with just one top 10 finish. Stewart is nimble enough behind the wheel on road courses with seven road-course victories, two at Sonoma, to work his magic in and out of corners. If his car is dialed in well enough, a top 10 finish is not out of the question.
Did you know: Jimmie Johnson has a series-high four victories this season. Defending series champion Kevin Harvick has won twice and leads the standings, 15 points ahead of Martin Truex Jr. … Jeff Gordon has a series-record nine road-course wins, five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen.
Next race: Coke Zero 400, July 5, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Florida.