SONOMA, Calif. -- Since when is finishing last a good omen?
It could be for Kyle Busch, who finished 43rd at Michigan last year before scoring the breakthrough victory at Sonoma that propelled him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and ultimately to the series championship.
A year later, Busch comes to Sonoma fresh from another last-place run at Michigan -- 40th this time because of the smaller Sprint Cup starting grid under the Charter system instituted this season.
Last year, Busch missed the first 11 Cup races of the season because of injuries suffered in the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway. This year, he already has three wins in his pocket, but his last four races feature a best finish of 30th.
"We came here (last year) after a 43rd-place finish at Michigan," Busch said. "Oh look, we did it again this year. It would certainly be nice to turn some things around. Definitely, it seems like the May, June months just don't go my way and aren't really on our side."
Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) provides a perfect opportunity to right the ship. Busch remembers coming to wine country in 2015 with no particular designs on winning the race, but the event played out perfectly when a late caution allowed him to pit for tires.
"No, it was certainly a welcome surprise to us, for sure," Busch said. "It wasn't that we circled it on the calendar thinking we'd have a shot to come back and be able to do that. We actually X'd this one out like we were just trying to survive and get out of here with a good day and a good points day.
"With the way the five races had gone before, coming here last year, the time I had just got back in the car, we weren't running and finishing the way we needed to."
But that all changed on a summer day in Sonoma, and Busch went on to become perhaps the least likely champion in recent memory.
JOHNSON ON ROAD COURSES: THE MORE, THE MERRIER
There's no doubt road courses have become wild-card races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Just look at the recent history of Sonoma Raceway. The last 11 races have produced just one repeat winner -- Kyle Busch. And Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 again may provide an opportunity for a driver who's not a regular contender in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to take the checkered flag and qualify for the Chase.
"It is a wild-card race, but I feel like, quickly going through my memory, whichever driver has won has had a dominating day and a strong performance throughout the day," Johnson said. "It's hard to repeat that; for whatever reason, I don't exactly know. But, I think we've seen a real interesting shift in the last 10 years, where the road course ringers have come in and they aren't taking the trophies home; it's really the NASCAR regulars.
"I think it shows the versatility we have as drivers and the teams as well, that set up the car and make the car get around here. Strategy does play a role, and I think that cost us the win last year (when Busch pitted for tires and passed Johnson in the closing laps). So occasionally you have maybe a fuel-mileage race that might mix it up a little bit, or strategy; and I think we just had a handful of laps left and decided to stay out and new tires got to us quickly last year."
Over the course of a Sprint Cup career that has produced six championships, Johnson has acquired a taste for the road courses.
"It's fun racing," he said. "I really enjoy it. I wish we did more. To have two road course races a year, you just kind of get into the swing of things, and we leave the Glen and you put it on the shelf and wait eight months or something and then do it again."
DOUBLE DUTY FOR GORDON?
On Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway, Jeff Gordon affirmed his commitment to his position as an analyst in the FOX Sports television booth.
But that doesn't mean Gordon is ruling out moonlighting as co-host for "Live with Kelly." Prevalent rumors have Gordon on the short list to fill the role of departed Michael Strahan as Kelly Ripa's sidekick on the show.
"Well, I'm flattered that my name has been associated with that," said Gordon, who has filled in as an occasional co-host of the show. "You know, I've always maintained a great friendship with the show and some of the producers and folks within the show. I had a great time co-hosting on that show, and I mean, I certainly would welcome it.
"My priority is FOX and FOX Sports and NASCAR, so I will definitely be back in the booth next year. If there was something that would fit into and around that -- great. I don't know if that's a reality, but it's been really interesting kind of seeing that unfold. I really don't have anything that I can say about it."