Quick takeaways from Sonoma: Sunday's final stage felt like old Sonoma

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• Sunday’s race didn’t feel like previous Sonoma races. At least until the third and final stage of the race.

NASCAR’s three-stage format has been a boon for racing at most tracks this season. Two weeks ago at Pocono, it took away the strategy aspect from the 2.5-mile track. And Sunday at Sonoma, the first half of the race was unrecognizable compared to previous races.

Much like Pocono, drivers can pit under green at the road course without losing a lap. That means teams generally worked the race backwards, calculating the timing of their pit stops to make it to the end of the race with just enough fuel to spare on as few pit stops as possible.

That backwards strategy went out the window on Sunday. With two 25-lap stages to open the race, teams knew cautions were going to happen after lap 25 and lap 50. Pit strategy wasn’t about getting to the end of the race, it was about earning stage points while also being in a good position for the final 60 lap stage.

Thanks to some caution flags, there were some varying strategies through the first stages. Some drivers pitted near the end of the first and second stages, knowing they weren’t going to earn stage points. Others wanted to be in the top 10 at the end of the stages to get those points.

[Related: Kevin Harvick wins at Sonoma]

Without stages at Sonoma, teams generally had a strategy and stuck to it. But increased tire wear was also a factor on Sunday too. Not only did teams know they had guaranteed chances to pit under caution, they also knew that fresh tires were worth two or three seconds a lap more than older tires.

But a caution-free final stage at Sonoma changed the second half of the race. The race’s final 56 laps went without a yellow flag. That lack of caution flags meant Kevin Harvick cruised to an eight-second win. It also meant that the rhythm of previous Sonoma races returned too.

As teams were on varying strategies, the lead changed hands six times in the final 56 laps. Suddenly, pit strategy was key again. Teams that pitted early in the stage were forced to save some fuel to make it to the end. Teams that pitted later in the stage were hoping for a caution that never came and for fresh tires to make up track position in the final laps of the race.

The divergence of strategies was a great thing. And it was made possible by the lack of a caution. NASCAR mentioned the “debris” word a few times on the officials’ radio channel, but none was found to call a late debris caution that would have buched up the field.

We’re guessing that’s what Brad Keselowski, who finished third, is referring to here in his “notable” section.

Kasey Kahne was checked and released from the infield care center after a nasty crash on the last lap. Kahne’s car skidded into the right-side wall on the Sonoma frontstretch as he appeared to attempt a pass on a lapped car. His hit was so hard that the car moved the concrete barriers that line the outside of the track.

How about some SAFER barrier where those walls are next year, Sonoma?

• Kahne’s crash complicated the finish of the race for Fox. NASCAR called a caution for the wreck as Harvick was exiting the final corner of the track. As Fox went split-screen to show both Harvick and Kahne, it subsequently made a couple of poor production decisions and completely whiffed on showing Harvick cross the finish line.

Instead of sticking with the split-screen shot as Harvick drove to the line, Fox cut to his crew chief Rodney Childers as he got to the checkered flag. Then, as Fox cut back to the flagstand there was no one crossing the finish line thanks to Harvick’s eight-second lead over second-place Clint Bowyer.

Yeah, the race ended under caution. But it’s a tradition to show the winner take the checkered flag at the conclusion of every race. Imagine if CBS didn’t show Dale Earnhardt crossing the finish line under caution when he won the 1998 Daytona 500.

The foulup was another in a long list of headscratching Fox production decisions throughout the 2017 season. The broadcaster repeatedly took too long to cut to wrecks that the broadcast booth noticed  throughout the season and the production truck — especially on Sunday — had an over-reliance on angles from cameras mounted on cars.

While cameras inside and outside of cars have a cool factor, they don’t tell a racing story nearly as well as wide shots do. Those wide shots allow viewers at home to get an idea of the proximity and speed of auto racing and show much more action.

• During Saturday night’s Xfinity Series race, Fox’s Xfinity series crew didn’t even realize race leader Christopher Bell had been involved in a wreck until the cameras showed Bell’s damaged car. Mind you, the wreck unfolded as viewers were watching live.

Fox is done with its NASCAR obligations for 2017 for the Cup Series and Xfinity Series. NBC takes over both series’ schedules for the remainder of the season at Daytona.

• Alon Day, became the first Israeli driver to make a Cup Series start on Sunday. Day, driving the No. 23 for BK Racing, had an eventful race that included multiple incidents. He finished 32nd.

• Billy Johnson, driving the No. 43 in place of the injured Almirola, also had an eventful day. He went off track a couple of times, had a beat up car and also sent Matt Kenseth spinning in the esses.

Johnson, a sports car racer, was making his first Cup Series start. He’s run Xfinity Series races before and once drew the ire of NASCAR and IndyCar veteran Max Papis at Road America.

Papis hadn’t forgotten that, as he tweeted during Sunday’s race.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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