Mattias Ekstrom had a promising Sprint Cup debut at Sonoma but he ended up disappointed as a late incident prevented him from getting a good finish.
The Swede ran a different strategy to most in the first part of the race and as the leaders pitted for the first time under green, he was able to place his No. 83 Red Bull Toyota in the lead on lap 36, having started way back in 38th place. The 31-year-old stayed up front for seven laps until early race leader Jimmie Johnson passed him on lap 42.
He would later get into an interesting battle with four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, who clipped the right-rear corner of his Toyota while trying to pass him for position, causing him to hit and spin Roush Fenway's David Ragan around.
Ekstrom kept the pressure on the Gordon afterward and showed enough pace to stay among the the top five at one point. As strategies unfolded in the end, and while he fought for a strong finish, the Red Bull driver got turned around by Penske's Brad Keselowski at the exit of Turn 7 with 18 laps remaining. After dropping well below 30th, he rebounded to take 21st at the checkered flag.
"I'm happy with the way we were running but the result is not what I would like," Ekstrom said. "It's a bit frustrating that we didn't get anything better out of it. I think we deserved something better than this."
The two-time DTM champion, added: "Everything matched my expectations. Everybody was racing hard and most of them also fair. It's just disappointing when you cannot deliver a good result because the team and everybody took care of me at Red Bull. You spend so much time and energy and everybody here was racing to win. I mean, I was dreaming of winning: we led some laps, ran quick all day and then 21st place is not so nice."
Next month Ekstrom will be back in behind the wheel of his Audi A4 for round four of the DTM at the Norisring.