The seventh generation NASCAR Cup car is an entirely different beast from those that have roared through the Sonoma hills before. The new car finally has independent rear suspension, meaning the practice of braking the cars on the inside of corners to aid in turning is no longer a crucial part of being fast at Sonoma Raceway.
Additionally, with lower profile tires there is less rubber and air to absorb impact and the jumps off the crest of Turn 3A are unlikely to happen without risk of damage or going off course.
But if you’re longing for the big air everywhere, Saturday’s doubleheader during the June 11-13 Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR weekend will feature vehicles that are likely to be delivered and use something similar to previous Cup car configurations comes close. The 11:30 a.m. ARCA Menards Series West event will be the usual elbow-away affair, with cars similar to those in the NASCAR K&N West Series that have run previously.
On Saturday at 1:30 p.m., the Cup drivers only have 20 minutes to relearn the ideal line for the new-generation cars before qualifying an hour later. The Esses will likely see the biggest changes in the racing line, as the newer cars are better able to round out their radii rather than going straight from curb to curb. And with their new 5-speed sequential gearboxes, all shift points will have changed.
But gone are the days of straddling a curb with your inside wheels in the dirt behind the edge of the curb. The rear diffuser, the vertical struts behind the rear axle, would be splintered. That would mean there’s a lot less downforce available in the fast Turn 10 and that’s where you need to set up passes in the hairpin of Turn 11.
When cup qualification is complete, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will head to Sonoma Raceway for the first time since 1998. Even heavier than the old Cup cars around the Chute configuration in Sonoma, expect plenty of paint traded at the Turn 7 complex. There are also many belay visits beyond the apex.
The Turn 3A grandstands will be freely accessible all weekend and there will be ample unobstructed viewing areas along the Ess-up route from assigned patio seating. The shuttle service that circles the route will get you there quickly.
Whether you have an official seat or not, 2022 will be a great year to look for new vantage points along the way. Another key spot to see the differences between old and new is available when crossing over the Turn 1 bridge into the infield. From there you can see the cars sweeping up the hill from the start/finish straight and then slamming on the brakes hard as they climb steeply into the turn 2 turn. From this vantage point you can see the new generation cup cars drive much lower under braking because their 18 inch rims can use much larger brakes than the old 15 inch rims.
And the new generation Cup cars use composite bodies, which have made the cars less prone to brushing against the wall than with the old sheet metal. That means riders can lean more on each other without risking tires. Races are getting more physical than ever.
Finally, fans will experience the full display of the NASCAR spectacle. The Generation 7 cars now have exhaust pipes on both sides of the cars. Previously, the pipes only came out on the right-hand side, and on a clockwise track fans only got glimpses of flames coming out of the pipes when braking. There’s another good reason to pack your binoculars.
Kids 12 and under are free on Fridays and Saturdays and only $10 on Sundays. Adult tickets are $30 on Fridays, $40 on Saturdays, and range from $59 to $140 on Sundays. Weekend passes range from $95 to $180 for adults. The cup race on Sunday gets the green flag at 1:00 p.m.
- To see over a dozen images of NASCAR legends making it big in Sonoma, visit http://marinij.com and check out this article under the Motorsports tab in the Sports section. See Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson and Danica Patrick ram curbs and lift a foot or more off the pavement.
- Novato native Dave Smith, often a competitor in the Saturday races at Sonoma’s NASCAR weekends, had something planned for this year, but that was thwarted by another opportunity across the continent. He shares the #43 McDonald’s Porsche Cayman GT4 with fellow pro driver Kai Goddard and amateur William Barnes for Mark Martin Team W2W Motorsports. W2W stands for “will to win”. They compete in the World Racing League’s 14-hour endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.
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