NASCAR is back at Sonoma Raceway on June 11-12, the first weekend at the California track since 2019 to feature a full capacity crowd. The expectation is that the road course race will have a celebratory atmosphere, and Sonoma Raceway’s executives are ready to deliver.
Jill Gregory, the EVP and general manager of the track, spoke to Heavy ahead of the trip to Sonoma Raceway to preview a packed weekend. She explained that she watched her first NASCAR race at Sonoma, which made her interested in the sport. Gregory then provided some insight into how the executives had to put extra emphasis on the fan experience.
“I think you have to approach it that you’re almost — not necessarily a first-time event — but it is time to kind of blow the dust off if you will,” Gregory told Heavy. “I mean, we’ve not had a full crowd since 2019. No national series, no NASCAR event in 2020 at all, and then a reduced capacity in ’21. So you know, a lot has changed since then. And we want to make sure that when fans come back at full force, not only do they have all of the things that they remember and that they love, but there are new activities, new ways for us to engage them.”
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There will be multiple entertainment options for the fans heading to the California track. Chris Lane will perform a concert after the Camping World Truck Series race on June 11 while the Patriots Jet Team will perform an air show an hour prior to the green flag of the Cup Series race. Fans will also witness the return of Trackside Live, which will feature appearances from drivers and other special guests.
An Iconic Configuration Returns for 2022
Along with the pre-race entertainment, Sonoma Raceway will also make another change for the race weekend. The track will go back to the 1.99-mile configuration of the track that became a mainstay on the schedule from 1998-2018. This means that the iconic Chute that connects Turn 4 as the cars approach the top of the hill to Turn 7 will return.
This high-speed section of the track featured numerous exciting moments for the fans in attendance over the years, and multiple drivers excelled on this configuration of the road course. Jeff Gordon, in particular, won five races on the 1.99-mile configuration of Sonoma Raceway.
“I think we’re really excited to see how the new car’s gonna do up there,” Gregory said. “But you know, what it does is it allows for — there’s some iconic shots of that track with cars up on two wheels kind of coming over that berm. There’s just a lot of action there.
“And with the shorter configuration, there’s more laps, so that means more kind of runs through the esses and more laps through Turn 11 which is where all the action — or a lot of the action — happens. So you know, more laps just mean more chances for drivers to get into each other and cause some trouble.”
The Track Sees Another Series Make its Return
One of the biggest draws for the California fans is the return of another series to Sonoma Raceway. The Cup Series will headline the weekend, but the Camping World Truck Series will draw plenty of attention as it returns for the first time since the late 1990s.
The Truck Series took on Sonoma four times before moving on to other tracks. The series made its debut in 1995 with a race that Ron Hornaday Jr. won before returning in 1996-1998. Boris Said won the final Truck Series race at Sonoma, and now a new generation of drivers will have an opportunity to pursue wins.
“Obviously, the Camping World Truck Series roots are in — strong roots — in California,” Gregory said. “A lot of early stars were kind of from this West Coast area. And so the idea that we could bring the trucks back for the first time since 1998, The fans immediately were like, ‘oh my gosh, it’s gonna be amazing.’
“You know, these drivers obviously today haven’t been here. So to see how they’re going to navigate the race action is going to be incredible. So I think it’s just more content, more excitement. I think the drivers are excited. You have Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain actually running in the Camping World Truck Series race, so that’s going to be exciting.”