Forward Bite: Nate Ryan & Dustin Long debate All-Star race’s value, Kyle Busch’s waiver


Welcome to the debut of Forward Bite where NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and Dustin Long debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions. Some days they might agree with each other. Other days? Not so much.

Just like how it often is in the media center at NASCAR races across the country.

Here’s their take on pressing topics this week … what’s your take?

Does the sport need the Sprint All-Star Race?

Dustin: No. Every weekend all of NASCAR’s top drivers race together. The All-Star race has outlived its purpose. If NASCAR is going to race, make it a points race. While there would be complications with taking a race from Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR should find a way to make such a move worthwhile and replace the event with a points race at Iowa Speedway or add a third road course to the schedule.

Nate: No, but there also is going to be intractable resistance to eradicating an event that has been a fixture for 31 years in NASCAR’s premier series. The All-Star Race’s primary flaw is redundancy, and it’s become more pronounced since last year when the Chase for the Sprint Cup was restructured with an emphasis on wins over points. The major selling point of the All-Star Race – go-for-broke with prestige and purse outweighing any concern for points – lacks more distinction than ever, and as you note, Dustin, every race already is an all-star event – a problem that NASCAR has wrestled with since its inception.

So how to fix it? Blow it up completely and start over. Don’t waste time tinkering with formats. Think big and start by stripping it from Charlotte Motor Speedway, whose smooth and supersonic surface is a fine layout for hosting a 600-mile marathon but couldn’t be less conducive for a sprint race. (This, of course, will prompt major hollering from track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. about losing guaranteed millions. OK, then move the event to SMI’s dirt track and drag strip across the street, testing driver’s hand-eye coordination in other disciplines. Or let SMI promote an All-Star Race through the streets of Uptown Charlotte, keeping all of the race’s revenues in house and in market.)

Dustin: Wait a minute. I hear what you’re saying Nate but please no street courses. Yes, it’s time for NASCAR to act and be bold in altering this event but not that bold. Shoot, if NASCAR really wanted to do something big, take the event to a place like South Boston Speedway, use it to promote the sport’s ties to the local tracks, put drivers on a track they’re not as familiar with and test them that way.

Nate: This is a worthy idea, and a concept worth broaching at a short track such as South Boston, Bowman-Gray Stadium or Hickory Motor Speedway. But creativity also should be encouraged, so the bolder the ideas, the better for NASCAR. In that vein, a measure of irreverence would help. Unlike other professional athletes, NASCAR drivers know how to laugh at themselves and are accustomed to getting outside their comfort zones as savvy spokespeople sometimes asked to do wacky things in the name of promotions. Let’s try some goofy competitions – best Victory Lane speech (judged on weaving in a recitation of sponsor plugs with a glib and charming delivery), best helmet toss, best rivalry-stirring interview (rip a competitor to shreds after pretending you have been wronged on track) – that celebrate the unvarnished moments of unbridled emotions that hook fans.

Did NASCAR make the right call to grant Kyle Busch a waiver to the requirement that a driver must start every race to eligible for the Chase?

Nate: Yes, and the reason is because the ruling also kept the top 30 in points requirement. If Kyle Busch manages to win a race and make the top 30 in points after spotting the field an 11-race head start, he might be the most deserving qualifier in the 11-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Will it be fair that he would be allowed to race for a title despite missing 42 percent of the regular season? Perhaps not, but the circumstances that left him sidelined weren’t fair, either. The Chase primarily was created to restore drama to the title race. Allowing Busch a shot should be celebrated for adding depth to the roster of potentially compelling storylines.

Dustin: I’m disappointed NASCAR didn’t waive the top 30 requirement and say if Kyle Busch wins a race before the Chase, he’s in. My reasoning is that the sport failed to do all it could to protect him. As Brian France said about Kyle’s injuries – “it’s on us.” Yes, it is. See how simple it was to put tire barriers up where Kyle hit the day after his accident? Why wasn’t that done before? Why not elsewhere? Kyle Busch should be in the Chase if he can win one of the next 15 points races regardless of where he is in the points when the Chase begins.

Nate: Can’t argue with any of those points, Dustin. If there was an instance in which the top 30 requirement were to be waived, this would be it. But leaving it in place strikes a good compromise – and it likely will be a moot point anyway. If Kyle Busch can win a race in his return, he likely will be running well enough to make the top 30 in the standings over a 15-race stretch. Granting that “superwaiver” mostly would be a symbolic gesture of admitting culpability in Busch’s wreck, and NASCAR already has stressed that point repeatedly. Keeping the top 30 stipulation allows for a modicum of sanctity around the existing rules for making the Chase (satisfying purists) and lessens the perception that Busch is being afforded an easier route to the title because NASCAR is overly sympathetic to his plight.

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)