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Martin Truex Jr., Chris Buescher lead drivers to watch at Sonoma

NASCAR Cup teams return to Sonoma Raceway this weekend for the 35th race at the California road course. There are several drivers to watch due to road course expertise, a list headlined by Martin Truex Jr. and Chris Buescher.

Truex is an obvious choice considering his success at Sonoma. He has the second-most wins at the track with four. Jeff Gordon, a five-time Sonoma winner, is the only driver ahead of him.

Truex is also the defending winner on the road course. He led a race-high 51 laps last season and held off two-time Sonoma winner Kyle Busch. Last season's race marked the fourth time in five races that Truex has finished third or better. This includes three wins.

The only outlier was a 26th-place finish in 2022.

"When you go to Sonoma with Martin Truex Jr, you expect to win or run really well," crew chief James Small told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after last season's win. "We've done that for the last number of years, but last year was just (expletive) awful and embarrassing. We didn't want to go back and run that poorly again."

Buescher, for comparison, has not celebrated a road course win in his Cup career. Yet he has been competitive in both Next Gen races at Sonoma. He finished second behind Daniel Suarez in the 2022 race after leading four laps. Buescher then finished fourth last season.

Four of Buescher's 21 career top-10 finishes have been at road courses, and they have all been with RFK Racing. Buescher has the best average finish in Cup on road courses in the Next Gen era (8.4).

Of course, several other drivers could be in contention this weekend at Sonoma based on past road course success.

This list includes seven-time road course winner Chase Elliott, four-time road course winner Kyle Larson, three-time road course winner Tyler Reddick, three-time road course winner AJ Allmendinger, two-time road course winner Christopher Bell, and two-time road course winner William Byron.

Elliott leads all active drivers with seven Cup wins on a road course, and he is third on the all-time road course wins list. However, all of his road course wins were in the Gen 6 era. A pair of runner-ups -- one at Road America and one at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- are his best road course finishes in the Next Gen era.

Byron is the most recent road course winner as he captured the checkered flag at Circuit of the Americas in March. COTA is the only road course on which Cup teams have competed this season.

While Reddick has three road course wins in the Next Gen era, he has struggled at Sonoma in his Cup career. He 19th in 2021, 35th in 2022, and 33rd last season.

Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney all have one win each on a Cup Series road course.