Ryan: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski heading in different directions


LOUDON, N.H. – If you prefer NASCAR with a side of the world’s strangest in stock cars, the 5-hour Energy 301 was your brand of bizarre.

Tires were turned into fireballs, menacing water bottles were tossed with impunity in hopes of stopping the action, and an oil slick straight out of Spy Hunter that took an interminable long time to trigger a caution.

And then there was this odd little nugget.

The two fastest cars in the Sprint Cup Series the past two weeks somehow seem headed in opposite directions.

How is that possible?

Consider the demeanor of the top two finishers Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

On one hand, there was race winner Kyle Busch, cracking jokes and thrusting newborn son Brexton skyward in victory lane.

On the other, there was runner-up Brad Keselowski, sounding unusually angst-ridden on his team radio and dejectedly offering up a series of tired clichés and eight-to-10 word answers afterward.

“I’m ready to go home,” he said. “I’m ready to go home.”

Busch obviously had much more to be happy about after his third win in the past four races continued his unbelievable surge toward the impossible – making the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite spotting the field the first 11 races because of a broken right leg and fractured left foot from his crash in the Xfinity Series opener Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway.

His 32nd career Sprint Cup victory whacked another 29 points off the deficit to his golden ticket to a Chase berth.

With seven races remaining in the regular season, only 58 points separate 30th-ranked David Gilliland from Busch, who might make up the gap at his current rate by Pocono Raceway in two weeks.

“This is pretty special,” he said. “This is something that I’m not sure we ever would have expected.”

The latter sentiment also might have been expressed by Keselowski if he’d been in a typically loquacious mood after leading a race-high 101 laps Sunday.

In two consecutive races, his No. 2 Ford might have been the class of the field.

In two consecutive races, he’s watched Busch’s No. 18 Toyota snatch the checkered flag.

“He’s good, but we’re a good team, too,” Keselowski said. “And I feel like we can beat him.”

He certainly has shown the ability to keep pace.

At Kentucky Speedway last week, a self-induced batch of pit miscues and backfiring strategy calls cost Keselowski. The miss at New Hampshire mostly was attributable to an inopportune caution flag that allowed Busch to inherit and keep the lead, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach.

Normally laid-back and measured when communicating with his Team Penske crew, Keselowski often was chippy on the team radio Sunday. He complained of lapped traffic, threatened retaliation and chastised spotter Joey Meier for a “panicked” tone on a restart.

In a series of upbeat postrace tweets more reflective of his regularly insightful and engaging personality, Keselowski blamed his grouchiness on stifling heat and the yellow flags.

But one has to wonder if the recent lack of execution also was a factor.

By virtue of his victory at Auto Club Speedway, Keselowski is in no danger of missing the Chase, and he is a major threat to advance deep into the playoff – perhaps a round further than last year to reach the winner-take-all finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But winning a title is about more than that just pure speed. Keselowski won the championship in 2012 because he and crew chief Paul Wolfe married flawless performance with sound (and often unconventional) strategies.

Over the past few weeks, though, that mantle has belonged to Busch and first-year Sprint Cup crew chief Adam Stevens, who has helped propel his driver’s long-shot bid with aggressively solid tactics that have maximized every chance at improvement.

“We executed,” Busch said. “That’s what you’ve got to do on these days.

“(Keselowski) should have probably been the fastest car. Was last week, was a little bit this week, yet somebody beat him. They executed just a little bit differently, and we were able to win the race.

“That’s going to happen to us, too.  We got to take what we can get when we get it. Take those opportunities and make the most of it.”

Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team is doing that better than any other outfit in Sprint Cup, and it’s been most starkly contrasted with Keselowski’s disappointments.

Busch’s lap times might be matched by many in NASCAR right now.

But it’s the only team truly setting the pace now.

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 goprn.com. … 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)