Ryan: The essence – and excellence – of Kyle Busch are worth celebrating

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – Roughly thirty minutes at Martinsville Speedway laid bare the essence of what makes the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion the most compelling, polarizing and engrossing personality in NASCAR.

On older tires and with a set of brakes that were intermittently balky, Kyle Busch capped a dominating performance (leading 352 laps, the most at Martinsville since 1998) in the STP 500 with the first weekend sweep in the 69-year history of the 0.526-mile oval.

On the team radio, he delivered a message (“Time for all you haters to shut up! Whooo! Martinsville, baby”) brimming with snark and swagger – which he punctuated via a trademark smoky burnout in his No. 18 Toyota and his exaggerated winner’s bow with the checkered flag.

On the victory lane stage on the frontstretch, he celebrated as the family man with wife Samantha and infant son, Brexton, who seemed vaguely aware that Dad had accomplished something really big and reached up for a high-five.

“Happy! Happy! Happy!” Busch exclaimed while bouncing his 11-month-old in his arms beside the grandfather clock trophy that had eluded him for 11 years and 21 starts at the oldest and smallest track on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

There are many sides to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and many resultant reasons why he is perhaps the biggest lightning rod for an infamously fickle fan base that gets offended by the smallest of transgressions by Busch.

Sunday’s postrace radio chatter lit up Twitter with those very haters calling him a cheater and poor sport. It was reminiscent of when he celebrated a 2009 Xfinity Series victory at Nashville by slamming a trophy guitar like a rock star, immediately bringing fan accusations that he desecrated the sanctity of NASCAR with a playful attempt at playing Pete Townshend.

Essentially, though, all that matters about Busch really should be this: We are witnessing one of the singular talents in stock-car history enter the prime of his life and career.

With his first win at Martinsville, Busch, 30, is in striking distance of winning at every track on the circuit. Only victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Pocono Raceway stand between the 2015 champion and a feat that hasn’t been achieved by Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.

“I wouldn’t say it’s immortality or anything,” Busch said. “It’s certainly neat to be able to show your diversity and being able to go out there and win at any single style of racetrack that there is. I think that just shows talent and obviously, too, you’ve got great people behind you. I wouldn’t be able to be here if it wasn’t for (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) or Toyota or Joe Gibbs Racing or even my sponsors with M&M’s.

“This was a really good day for me, and being able to accomplish this one, this one is pretty cool.  When we get down on the checklist, we’ll further talk about that.”

Busch’s greatness, though, has been too good to ignore over the past year after returning from foot and leg injuries that cost him the first 11 races of the 2015 season.

Martinsville was his sixth victory in 31 races since the comeback and the 35th of his career. Though he pulled the second-loudest chorus of boos in prerace introductions (outdone only by Joey Logano), his victory celebration drew mostly raucous cheers from a few hundred fans who stuck around on the frontstretch to chant “Kyle, Kyle, Kyle.” Many were wearing other drivers’ gear, too – an indication of the respect level for a career that already is worth of the Hall of Fame.

It was suggested in his postrace winner’s interview that Busch could surpass the Cup win total of David Pearson, who didn’t earn his 35th until age 34 on his way to 105 that ranks second to Richard Petty’s 200.

“Man, I thought I’d get that question when I was like 75,” Busch said with a laugh, noting Johnson had reached 77 only two weeks ago. “Y’all just asked Jimmie if he could make it to 100. We’ve got a long ways ahead of us. Let’s get to 50 first; how about that?”

We’re going to have to start winning two a weekend,” Stevens, his crew chief, cracked. “Can we do that?”

Well, yes. All things seem possible with Busch, and it’s not because of the publicly mercurial persona that often emerges (last week, NASCAR fined Busch $10,000 for skipping his media obligations after ridiculing the sanctioning body’s decision to withhold a caution that cost him an Xfinity win).

“No, the cool thing about Kyle is he’s exactly the same, no matter what,” Stevens said. “At Vegas, we were just terrible. I mean, we were going to finish three or four laps down based off of practice, and he had the biggest smile on his face the entire weekend, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, pal, you always give me the good stuff for the race,’ and I’ll be darned, but we did.”

“He’s just a pleasure to work with in that regard.  It’s very even keel.”

That’s reflected in his winning record. Busch has won at every short track, where aggression is needed to bang fenders for positions. He has won at both restrictor-plate tracks, where a deft application of uncanny strategy is required to overcome the arbitrary nature of the draft. He has conquered both road courses, where smooth driving and perfect shifting and braking are rewarded.

It seems a foregone conclusion that conquering Pocono, Charlotte and Kansas is inevitable. Maybe hitting the century mark (Busch would need to average roughly five wins per season into his mid-40s) is doable.

“I’d certainly love to get that high,” he said. “Hell, I’d love to have 200, but we know that’s probably not going to happen. But we’ve (won) now 35 times, and we’ll see if we can’t get more.”

Of course, he will.

And when he does, fans will find reasons to be awed, angered and engaged by it.

That’s the essence of Kyle Busch.

Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming potent combination

Rick Hendrick hopes rough driving settles down after Chase Elliott suspension

Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

NASCAR implements safety changes after Talladega crash

Dr. Diandra: Brad Keselowski driving RFK Racing revival 

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2

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)