Ryan: After a surprising twist, where does Matt Kenseth head from here?


HOMESTEAD, Fla. – When Matt Kenseth walks across the driver introduction stage this afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it might signal more than just a return from a two-race stay in NASCAR gulag.

For better or for worse, it could mark the beginning of a new career phase for a Sprint Cup star who always seemed so well-defined by a decided dearth of controversy.

Is Kenseth still the mild-mannered and reserved 2003 champion with nary a behavioral transgression in 15 previous years of laudably climbing to become one of the greatest and most respected stars of his generation?

Or is he the iconoclast rabble-rouser who is a hero to fans who love cheap shots (on social media or otherwise) and middle fingers raised to the establishment?

This would have been a laughable question three weeks ago before Kenseth intentionally crashed Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway and doubled down in unrepentant insubordination against the powers that be in NASCAR. He taunted Brian France on Twitter, propagated the notion that his two-race suspension was tantamount to a jail sentence and vowed to return as an angrier driver hell-bent on taking no prisoners at every turn.

Kenseth has said he has no regrets for his stance, and there hardly is reason to doubt that, even after he was summoned to a Monday meeting with France.

Though both sides tried to put a happy face on whatever happened behind closed doors, the NASCAR CEO and chairman repudiated every stance posited by Kenseth in a 30-minute news conference Friday that felt more like a well-delivered rebuttal – or a rally that could have ended with France burning a “Free Matt” T-shirt in effigy.

Given how he carried himself in crisis, Kenseth might have respected that.

He has stayed true to a bullheaded and strong-willed persona, which often gets overlooked in the focus on his understated personality and exceedingly dry wit. Such misconceptions of Kenseth’s essence are commonplace. His staccato Midwestern speech is littered with pockets of broken grammar that disguises a curious intellect and a voracious appetite for reading.

Privately, he is one of the most inquisitive drivers you’ll meet in Sprint Cup. While barnstorming around the Carolinas to promote NASCAR’s playoffs last month, he picked track president Marcus Smith’s brain about the dimensions of the landfill adjacent to Charlotte Motor Speedway as if he were a meticulous surveyor from Cabarrus County.

He has a behind-the-scenes business savvy, building an impressive portfolio of personal endorsements despite his low-key style.

He also is a firm believer in right and wrong; an understated man of faith who doesn’t hesitate to make hard and swift decisions if he thinks they are worth the struggle. It hardly received attention, but his crew chiefs at Roush Fenway Racing didn’t last long if they didn’t prove they could take his estimable talent to victory lane.

All of this is the backdrop for explaining the “why” behind pile-driving Logano into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville – a stunningly brazen move that shocked those who viewed it as wickedly at odds with the perpetrator’s muted disposition.

For Kenseth, all of the accompanying distractions and stress – including sitting at home and agonizing while truck champion and vaunted prospect Erik Jones admirably wheeled his No. 20 Toyota — were worth it because he found a measure of justice.

But yet the repercussions of Martinsville didn’t end in Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss’ faux courtroom two weeks ago.

There will be lingering questions about what it means for Kenseth’s “brand,” a term he no doubt detests but also can’t ignore.

With each recalcitrant act of defiance, the likelihood increases that Martinsville could be the defining moment of his Hall of Fame career, or more importantly to determining his NASCAR legacy.

It once was easy to write. Kenseth is the unsung 2003 champion from small-town Cambridge, Wis., who became the unquestioned leader of Joe Gibbs Racing after an unfailingly loyal stay at Roush.

Now it could carry an asterisk – or at least an addendum: “Matt Kenseth, the calculating rebel who embraced the benefits in Pyrrhic retribution.”

Based on the raucous approval of roughly 60,000 adoring fans at Martinsville, that might be how he is remembered: As a new hero to those who like their stars rough-hewn and ill-tempered.

Maybe that’s the brand Kenseth, who once was portrayed as a robot in a sponsor’s commercial that lampooned the public’s stiff perception of him, always wanted.

But what if that fan support wanes and leaves only a black mark of blatant and classless retaliation that earned a suspension unprecedented in stiffness? What if it eventually leaves him on the wrong side of history?

It’s hard to predict where this is going to go next because the steps he has taken here have been so surprising.

It all starts today with a slow stride across a long stage in South Florida.

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


Cup and Xfinity teams will be on track Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Cup teams will practice and qualify for Sunday’s race. Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday on the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 75 degrees. Forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high of 71 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Saturday, June 10

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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.