Five Drivers who could punch their ticket to the Chase at Sonoma Tony Stewart during driver introductions for the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Photo by Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts

By Justin Melillo
Staff Reporter
June 24, 2016

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

The drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to their first road course event of the 2016 season this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Being one of only two road course races this season, some drivers are well known for being able to navigate the twisted, elevated corners that Sonoma brings to the table.

Although there are a handful of drivers that have already claimed a spot in the chase that will be favorites to win next Sunday, here are five drivers that haven’t won yet in 2016 to watch for:

A.J. Allmendinger - No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Allmendinger is always a threat to win when it comes to either Sonoma or Watkins Glen, capturing one career victory at Watkins Glen in 2014, and claiming the pole position last season at Sonoma.

Although Allmendinger has a career average finish of 21.9 in seven starts at Sonoma, he has enjoyed leading 36 laps the past two seasons.

A.J. Allmendinger
Photo by Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts

Allmendinger succumbed to crash damage in 2014 and a fuel system issue forced him out early in 2015, both races resulting in a 37th place finish.

Allmendinger’s win at Watkins Glen in 2014 locked him into the chase, so look for the No. 47 to be a threat to win at Sonoma.

Tony Stewart - No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Stewart is a known wheelman, capturing victory in almost everything and everywhere he’s been. Last weekend at Michigan proved that Stewart and his team can still compete, so what better race to rekindle the magic.

In 17 starts, Stewart has won twice at Sonoma, his most recent victory in 2005. Stewart maintains an average finish of 12.4, with a finish of 12th in 2015.

Another compelling argument is that Stewart knows how to bring home his car in one piece. Only once in his career did he not finish a race at Sonoma on the lead lap, and that was the 2011 race where he and Brian Vickers took turns taking each other out.

Tony has a steep hill to climb to make the chase as far as points go, but a win is still a must. Like Kyle Busch did last year, Stewart can take the checkers at Sonoma and jump start his road towards a championship.

Chase Elliott - No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Ryan Blaney - No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, and Chris Buescher - No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

The rookie class of 2016 has been impressive, to say the least. Any Sunday in the near future, we could see either Ryan Blaney or Chase Elliott find their way to victory lane given how well they have been running and seeing as they are both in the chase cutoff by virtue of their points position.

Chris Buescher on-track at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
Photo by Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts

With that knowledge, and the following statistics to back me up, I think a rookie could steal the checkered flag at Sonoma.

Being that all three have never raced at Sonoma, there is no history to say how well any of them have done before. But looking at other series and other road course events, all three drivers have found their way to victory lane at another road course in the past.

In 2013, Elliott claimed his only career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory by winning in a last lap brawl with Ty Dillon at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The next season at the same track in the same series, Ryan Blaney took home the checkers in another last lap skirmish, this one being with German Quiroga.

Also in 2014, Buescher claimed his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, leading 25 laps and defeating Regan Smith, Brian Scott, Chase Elliott, and Alex Tagliani.

Now, each road course is different, and winning in the XFINITY Series or Camping World Truck Series doesn’t mean it will translate to the Sprint Cup Series. However, road courses such as Sonoma depend on more skill than other ovals on the circuit. Their youth and desire to win could help any one of these three rookies find victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series for the first time in their career.

Which driver will finish highest Sunday at Sonoma?
No. 14 Tony Stewart
No. 21 Ryan Blaney
No. 24 Chase Elliott
No. 34 Chris Buescher
No. 47 A.J. Allmendinger
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