For the first time in almost two years, the North Bay will be transformed into Thunder Bay as the sights and sounds of NASCAR make their long-awaited return to the twisting, turning layout of Sonoma Raceway, June 5-6.

            The Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race will mark NASCAR’s first race in the state of California in more than 15 months and the first race in Sonoma in nearly two years.

            The return of racing at Sonoma Raceway also signals the return of race fans to the facility as well. Sonoma County authorities have given the green light to host a reduced capacity crowd that will be thirsting for the roar of engines.

            No one will be more excited to get back to the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course than Martin Truex Jr. The 2017 NASCAR Champion has won the past two Cup races in Sonoma and will be trying to join Jeff Gordon as just the second driver to ever win three races in a row at Sonoma. Gordon won the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Toyota/Save Mart 300s.

            “I’ve been waiting for a while to go back to Sonoma and try to get the three-peat,” Truex said. “Sonoma is such a fun track and it’s a great part of the country. It’s beautiful and always great weather. I can’t wait to get there and see all of our fans in California that we haven’t seen in quite a while.”

            More impressively for Truex, is he has won the past two races on two different configurations. The 2018 race marked the final race for “The Chute”, which was introduced in 1998 and shortened the track to 1.949 miles and eliminated the famous Carousel. The Carousel, which will be in use again this year, returned to the track layout in 2019. Truex and legendary racer Ricky Rudd are the only two drivers to win NASCAR Cup races on both layouts.

            Other storylines to watch include Chase Elliott’s pursuit of Jeff Gordon’s career road course win record. Gordon won a NASCAR-record nine road course races during his career. Elliott, the defending series champion, picked up his sixth career road course victory at Circuit of the American in Austin just a week ago.

            There will be a distinct California feel to the race as well as five native Californians are expected to compete in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Kyle Larson (Elk Grove), Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield), Matt DiBenedetto (Grass Valley), Tyler Reddick (Corning) and Cole Custer (Ladera Ranch) make up more than 10 percent of the starting field.

            This year’s event is a one-day show for the NASCAR Cup Series as there will be no practice or qualifying due to previously established limitations issued by NASCAR on the duration of race weekends due to Covid-19 precautions.

            However, there will still be plenty of racing action throughout the weekend as the General Tire 200 for the ARCA Menards Series West hits the track on Saturday. In addition, the Historic Trans Am Series will compete in timed races on Saturday and Sunday and will feature NASCAR on Fox lead announcer Mike Joy trading in his tie and microphone for a driving suit and a steering wheel.

            The General Tire 200 is set to start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 and Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 6. Sunday’s race will be televised live on Fox Sports 1.