It seems silly to say that Kevin Harvick needs a break to get his first victory of the season, but this week’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 might provide it. Sonoma Raceway is the host, and the roadside track has always been a favorite of Harvick’s. In his last four races, he has finished no worse than sixth. Last year he placed second, and the year before won.
In addition to success here, a wrinkle has been added to this year’s race. Part of the course, called The Carousel is making a return to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Instead of 1.99 miles, it is now to a 12-turn 2.52-mile layout that features a downward part.
The Carousel has been closed since 1988, and Harvick and Kyle Busch are the only two active drivers that have raced that part of the track. Harvick is the favorite at 7/2, with Busch right behind at 4/1.
Busch said he remembers how tricky the course was back then.
“It’s just going to add in – there’s a ramp almost kind of getting into the carousel, you have to be out of the gas before going up and over that hill,” Busch said. “Then throttle back into the turn and that’s what I remember when I ran the course back in 1998 with Legends cars, but these cars are entirely different from Legends cars so we’re definitely going to have some new learning to do. At least I know where I’m going when I’m down there.”
From Suggestion to Fruition
Harvick might have had an ulterior motive when he told Marcus Smith, president, chief operating officer and director of Speedway Motorsports Inc. about The Carousel.
“I had this conversation with Marcus Smith and the next thing I know, he’s picking up the phone, um, calling the racetrack. ‘Hey, is this something that we can do?’ And the next thing I know, we’re running the old racetrack,” Harvick said.
Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway’s general manager, was on the other end of that phone call, and he told Kickin’ the Tires that it seemed like a good idea.
“We’ve debated it back and forth, the pros and cons and as we came into our 50th Anniversary year, and after all of these years we have changed the whole logistical set-up of the racetrack of where we store equipment and keep it out of the way and The Carousel was always convenient,” Page said. “But in going through the exercise of figuring out if we could go back and make the logistics work, we decided this was the right year and the feedback and just been overwhelmingly positive.”
Some Not Happy
At least one driver isn’t thrilled that The Carousel is back in play. Clint Bowyer said he liked the old layout. He is 6/1 this weekend, and won on the old layout in 2012.
“I’m a little bit torn on this,” Bowyer said. “I was surprised they added The Carousel back to the layout. I’m kind of old-fashioned and thought, you know, if it isn’t broke, why fix it, why touch it? And I didn’t think that track was broke at all. I think the tire and stuff has gotten a little bit too good for a track like that, but I always have thought it’s been a great product for our sport. Who knows, maybe, it’ll make it better and it’s certainly going to make it a longer race.”
Even though Busch has raced The Carousel, he’s not sure what to expect in this race.
“The Carousel coming back, it’s kind of interesting, I thought back about it earlier or when they made the announcement,” Busch said. “You look back to 1998 when they added the chute and, that was a lot of wasted money because now we’re going back to what it was. Overall, just having The Carousel coming back, I don’t think it’s going to change the racing dynamic a whole lot from what that race looks like.”