What to expect in Atlanta Cup race? ‘I don’t know’ is a popular refrain


HAMPTON, Ga. — The phrase “I don’t know” has been uttered more often by drivers this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway than for any other race in recent years.

A new rules package has drivers guessing what they’ll need in Sunday’s 500-mile race. The expectation is that tire wear will spread the field just as it has done in past races on the track’s worn surface. The key for drivers will be how well their car handles.

“There will be teams (Sunday) that drastically miss (the setup) and ones that hit it,” said Clint Bowyer, who was fastest in Saturday’s final practice session. “The ones that hit it are going to have a lot of fun. The ones that don’t are going to be miserable.”

Their misery could last a long time. Drivers can no longer adjust the trackbar to help the car’s handling. That provides another challenge.

“There’s a lot to think about,” said Erik Jones, who finished third in last weekend’s Daytona 500. “The package, you don’t really know where it’s going to go. No trackbar adjuster, so you’re going to have to set your car up for the start of the run. I don’t know. Nobody really knows how the race is going to play out.”

One key area could be restarts. Drivers expect them to be chaotic. With the engines limited to 550 horsepower, there is the question of trying to track down the leader. Gaining positions on the restart will be critical.

That could mean what lane a driver restarts in could play a significant role in their result. The preferred restart lane is the inside at Atlanta. For all five restarts last year, the leader took the inside lane. In two of those restarts, the first car on the outside lane (Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick) spun their wheels and lost at least three spots on the first lap of the restart.

With this package, will the inside line be more dominant?

“I think a lot of the reasons that the inside line was so important was that the top just had way more wheelspin, but with less horsepower, that should be a little less,” Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin said. “I don’t think it’ll be as detrimental actually, probably the other way around. Overall, until I see it, I’m not sure.”

But what makes one lane better than the other?

“I don’t know why it is,” Kyle Busch said. “There’s kind of a different color tone to the asphalt. I don’t know if has to do something to do with the asphalt mix when they paved this place that now you can definitely tell a difference between the inside lane and the outside lane.

“Also the inside guy has a straighter launch than the guy on the outside, he’s always kind of turning. … This is the worst for the launch, the application of throttle. To not spin the rear tires is so crucial, and it’s so easy to do in that outside lane.”

Even with the disadvantage of the top lane, Kurt Busch restarted there in sixth last year and gained three spots in one lap. Can Busch do that again with this package?

“All things are still up in the air,” Busch told NBC Sports. “We have less horsepower, so it will be easier to get the grip. You won’t spin the tires as easy with the full horsepower.

“Once we grab fourth gear, where is the draft because the cars have so much more drag. So it might not be where the bottom is preferred once you get to the corner because you want to side draft off the right side of the cars, which means you go to the outside.

“Still a lot of unknowns. That’s the box NASCAR wants to keep us all in, is keep us guessing in a lot of areas, and restarts are going to be big.”

Jimmie Johnson said he thinks another factor will be key in restarts. It will be who is behind.

I really feel like this package is going to be different than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Johnson, whose five wins at Atlanta are the most among active drivers. “You don’t have as much power to spin the tires. I feel like in a restrictor-plate race, who is behind you and the type of push they can give you is going to make a big difference in how things turn out for you down the backstretch. So, I feel like the leader will probably make decisions based on who they think is a good pusher.”

But even if drivers figure that out, there are many unknowns.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Bubba Wallace said. “I think it’s exciting for the fans because we’re just kind of going out and honestly taking what the car will give us. When they put all of us out there, it could be a good show, it could be a crapshoot. We don’t know.”

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)