Ryan: Logano vs. Kenseth reaffirms fine line of circus vs. sport


MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The cars had fallen silent, but a crowd of at least 50,000 just kept roaring.

As the video board in the middle of the Martinsville Speedway infield replayed Matt Kenseth’s takeout of leader Joey Logano causing a red flag with 45 laps left in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, the raucous cheers, gasps and exclamations of wonder continued in an unabated din. Heads turned upward in every pit box as an array of smiles and frowns formed while reliving the most controversial wreck of the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season.

The scene was more chaotic in the garage, where Logano’s crew members scurried between fans holding aloft smartphones trying to capture photos and videos of the heavily damaged No. 22 Ford. Henry County sheriff’s deputies tried to restore order (“If you’re not media, you’ve got to back up!” quickly morphed into “I need everybody out of here but live TV!”) as Logano exited the nearby care center and walked briskly to his team’s stall – now to a chorus of boos cascading down the from the double-decker grandstands in Turn 2.

A Joe Gibbs Racing crew member turned to a teammate and smiled.

“I just came over to fight,” he joked.

There was anger. There was awe. There was amusement.

There was a captivating spectacle of the sort that largely had gone missing over the first 33 races of the season on a circuit that likes billing passion as a primary selling point.

Was this “quintessential NASCAR” as chairman Brian France famously had declared about Logano bumping Kenseth from the lead to win at Kansas Speedway?

Some of the self-proclaimed standard bearers of the sport, and its most uptight sponsors, certainly wouldn’t agree. And after nearly six seasons of living in the “Boys, have at it” era, exacerbated by a revamped playoff system that incrementally keeps raising the already sky-high stakes over the final 10 races, some of its stars seemed less certain, too.

“I don’t even know anymore, the structure in which we have around us is not very strong as far as an authority figure saying, ‘No, you cannot do that anymore,’ ” said Denny Hamlin, whose voice carries significant weight as an organizer of the driver’s council that began meeting with NASCAR this year. “It’s just tough for us because this is what’s been created. I love Brian France, but when he says that drivers are doing what they have to do, it seems like he’s promoting this type of racing, so that’s tough to crown a true champion when things go like this.

“It’s a no-holds-barred Wild, Wild West. Sure, when people crown the statement that a driver’s doing what he’s got to do and they became OK with that statement, you’re just opening up Pandora’s box. Everyone is just doing what they have to do I guess. It’s a bad statement. It’s an ugly statement.”

The ugly truth, though, is that men behaving badly have been a cornerstone of stock-car racing for 66 years. It had veterans emerging wide-eyed from their cars after Kenseth’s ignominious payback at Martinsville.

“Wow, man! That was wild stuff,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “They’re going to talk about that for a while. I mean, look at this Chase. It’s wild for these fans, and they’ve got to be thrilled with how this Chase is so intense compared to our past formats. Unbelievable stuff happening out there.”

Depending on the optics used to determine quality, what some perceive as NASCAR’s best also might be viewed as its worst.

At the risk of evoking metal folding chairs and bawdy entrance music, its most alluring elements can feel tantamount to pro wrestling. That’s a comparison that once earned Tony Stewart a harsh condemnation because it dangerously skirts the boundaries of the scripted and staged. NASCAR understandably wants to avoid those unfair and untrue associations, but it can’t escape another root conclusion whether it’s actors dressed in tights or athletes wearing firesuits.

They both are the central figures of soap operas.

Yes, fans want the hard racing that largely has been disappearing with short tracks such as Martinsville. But as measured by the thunderous rumblings of approval Sunday at the 0.526-mile oval, they also want the outbursts of unbridled emotion and episodes of vicious retribution that could be construed as embarrassing.

It’s a byproduct of billing yourself as a “contact sport” and tacitly endorsing frontier justice, and France surely understands the Faustian bargain in play with proclamations that could be interpreted as feeding bloodlust.

In its most indelible moments – from the fistfight on the final lap of the 1979 Daytona 500 to the paybacks dished out Sunday – NASCAR always teeters on the precariously thin line between being branded as an out-of-control circus or an enthralling sport.

Still, the punishment for Kenseth must be severe. While France has encouraged his stars to mix it up, the message has been that crashing for a win or in a fierce battle for position is OK.

When was the last time a lapped car (in this case, 10 laps down) just decided, “Sorry, you don’t get to win,” and wrecked a leader so close to the finish? Those are the types of shenanigans immortalized by the Modified series at Bowman-Gray Stadium, which is synonymous with bush league. There might be a place for it in racing but not on the national stage.

At the very least, Kenseth must be given a penalty matching what Jeff Gordon received for intentionally crashing Clint Bowyer at Phoenix International Raceway in 2012 (a 25-point penalty, $100,000 fine).

And given the dynamics of the Chase for the Sprint Cup then vs. now – Gordon cost Bowyer an outside chance at a title, while Kenseth might have eliminated the championship favorite from a guaranteed shot in the finale —  it probably should be much harsher. Sitting Kenseth at Texas Motor Speedway – and possibly for the final three races of the season – should be on the table.

Regardless, the decision is sure to inspire another roar from NASCAR Nation, where the level of noise always outweighs the importance of anything else.

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)