Chris Buescher on the big Christmas present Santa Roush gave him

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NASCAR team owner Jack Roush just gave Chris Buescher the biggest Christmas present he’s ever received in his life.

In the course of forging a new technical and performance alliance in 2016 with Front Row Motorsports, Santa Roush sweetened the pot by making Buescher part of the deal as the new driver of the No. 34 Ford.

As a result, the 2015 Xfinity Series champion now will be a full-time rookie in 2016 in the Sprint Cup Series with Front Row.

“Things happen quick around here, I’ve learned that through the years,” Buescher said Thursday morning on The Morning Drive on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s definitely exciting for it to come together now. There were a lot of things circulating and rumors … but it’s finally played out.

“We feel a little bit better going into next year. It’s relieving. Even though it’s been a quick turnaround time, it’s very stressful not knowing what you’re doing next year, where you’re going to be racing at or how often. This is very relieving news and very exciting news.”

And while Buescher will be driving for Front Row, he will still be linked at the hip to RFR.

“I definitely will be in a Ford as we move forward and with Roush Fenway Racing,” Buescher said. “We’re not cutting any ties in the process, we’re creating new ones. It’s to help out multiple parties.”

Buescher will not be a new face at Front Row. He competed in six Sprint Cup races for the organization in 2015, with a best finish of 20th in his first start early in the season at Fontana, Calif.

Front Row has had growing pains and struggles over the years. It formed in 2005 as a part-time team, moved to full time in 2009 and earned its first and only Sprint Cup win with David Ragan at Talladega in 2013.

To date, FRM has made a combined 668 starts in the Sprint Cup Series with one win, four top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole. Its best single-season finish was 26th with David Gilliland in 2013.

But Buescher is optimistic that the new technical partnership with Ford and Roush Fenway Racing will pay dividends to FRM going forward.

“It is a newer team, it is a smaller team, but it’s a team that’s still building,” Buescher said. “In the last 10, 20 years, I don’t think you’ve seen anybody come into this sport and be dominant right off the truck. It’s going to be a building process.

“We’re going to have the alliance with Roush, a little better communication between Ford teams, which is exciting, and I think it’s a way to build it up. There’s always challenges when you move … there’s going to be a learning curve. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be fun and interesting.

“It’s nice having the communication open already over there and I know a lot of people there and it will make the transition easier.”

One person Buescher knows quite well is his crew chief in the Xfinity Series, Scott Graves, who will be joining Buescher in the same role at Front Row.

“That was a big part of this,” Buescher said. “It’s so important to keep the chemistry and you see the guys that are successful have had long relationships. It’s important to be together and have that foundation, at least. Not everything is new. There’ll be something to bounce back off of.”

While he’ll be focused on Sprint Cup, there is a possibility Buescher still might run some Xfinity races in 2016 as well.

“I’d love to run more Xfinity races,” Buescher said. “It’s as important as ever to get as much seat time as possible right now, especially with no testing. If everything comes together, I’ve expressed an interest in it and I know Roush is open to it. It’s going to take the right circumstances and sponsorship, as well.”

Buescher will join 2014 Xfinity champ Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Brian Scott as Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year contenders.

“Those are the same guys we’ve been racing against for a long time,” Buescher said. “It’s cool that we’ve all been able to make it this far.

“If you look back just five to eight years ago, we were all racing late models and Legends cars at local short tracks and that we’ve made it all to this point. We just can’t get away from each other. It’s a good thing we get along.”

Buescher said he learned of the new deal just a few days ago: “Roush said, ‘You’re getting ready to be busy,’ so here we are.”

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Weather

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)