Daytona 500 takeaways: Denny Hamlin loses control of race, Kyle Larson’s return


For a while, Denny Hamlin indeed made it look easy again.

An ill-fated pit strategy under green flag conditions may have put the kibosh on his bid to become the first driver to win three consecutive Daytona 500s on Sunday night. But not before Hamlin showed again why he’s become so dominant on the superspeedways in recent years.

“We were controlling the lines, controlling the pace – It was easy for a little while,” Hamlin said after a race where he led the most laps (98) and swept both stages. “But I knew it was all gonna be about that last pit stop if we didn’t have any other cautions.”

Before things went awry, Hamlin dictated the proceedings with his Toyota teammates often behind him. Of course, a good spotter is essential to mastering the art of superspeedway racing – and in Chris Lambert, Hamlin has one of the best.

“He really does a great job painting a picture for me in the mirror, that way I don’t have to look,” Hamlin said of Lambert. “I can just trust in what he’s saying and make a move. That’s been the key, I think, to me, being able to control and move side to side in tight spaces. It’s been our communication and how well we’ve worked together.”

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But after he and his teammates were shuffled back in the field following the green flag cycle with less than 30 laps to go, Hamlin was at the mercy of the single-file line that droned around the 2.5-mile oval until roughly two laps to go.

Following the Fords and Chevrolets, the Toyotas were the last to pit during the cycle on Lap 173. But when they came out, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace were all separated on the track.

Now running in single-file with Joey Logano at the front, the Fords and Chevrolets quickly swallowed them up. Hamlin ended up slotting into 13th at Lap 176. When the white flag waved 23 laps later, he had only been able to move up to ninth.

He avoided the fiery, multi-car wreck on the last lap to finish fifth. Afterwards, he seemed miffed over the lack of effort in making a move with a win on the line.

“I understood at the end of stages, waiting until the last lap – you’re gonna get some points, no matter what,” he said. “But ultimately, and this is selfishly speaking, I’m wondering, ‘What in the world? Why are we running in a single file line crossing the white – 10th, 12th, 8th, 6th, are you just happy with that finish or are you gonna go for it?’ Especially since there were really no Fords beyond fifth or sixth – it was them and everyone else. Then, surprise, everyone else didn’t go.

“I wasn’t sure who was leading that, whether it was Austin (Dillon) or Chase (Elliott). I don’t know. You gotta go for the win. I tried to do everything I could from 12th. I kept pulling out of line, trying to side-draft guys, try to pick them off one by one. But I couldn’t make it happen. Once I got to eighth in line after I passed some lapped cars, I was like, ‘This is all I’ve got.’ I just hoped that they’d crash with two to go and we’d get a restart and then I’ve get a shot. It just didn’t happen in our favor.”

All’s well that ends well for Larson

Kyle Larson appeared to have escaped the last-lap crash like Hamlin did, but contact from another competitor sent him into the Turn 4 wall and spinning.

Despite the incident, Larson was credited with a 10th-place finish after NASCAR froze the field at the time of the caution. That capped an official return to Cup racing which had its ups and downs.

Larson scored points in both stages, but toward the end of Stage 2, he suffered a left rear tire failure after getting knocked into the wall. After finishing eighth in the stage, he was assessed a pit road penalty for a safety violation.

He quietly made his way back toward the front, and was within striking distance of the leaders on the final lap before the crash.

“I thought we were in an OK spot there at the end to get a top five, if not, maybe a win if things worked out down the backstretch and through (turns) three and four,” Larson said afterwards. “They all kind of started crashing in front of me.

“I almost made it through; I think I barely clipped the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) car and then kind of slid all the way through (turns) three and four. Thought I might save it, couldn’t save it and started spinning. Lost some spots, but it was still a top 10.”

Spire scores double top 10

Spire Motorsports expanded to a two-car program in the offseason with Corey LaJoie as its mainstay in the No. 7 Chevrolet. For the Daytona 500, its other entry, the No. 77, was driven by 2010 race winner and Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Jamie McMurray in a one-off effort.

Both drivers scored top 10 finishes with McMurray in eighth and LaJoie in ninth. Prior to Sunday, the team had only one top 10-finish in Cup competition – its rain-shortened win with Xfinity Series regular Justin Haley at Daytona in July 2019.

McMurray recovered from two separate incidents during the race. He was involved in the 16-car pileup on Lap 14, and was later sent spinning behind Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s incident on Lap 112.

McMurray also recorded the fastest lap of the race at 44.945 seconds (200.245 mph) on Lap 189.

Rule of 3’s

Twenty years after he lost his life in the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was honored with a tribute at Lap 3 in Sunday’s race. Fans in the grandstands and competitors on pit road raised three fingers, while the scoring pylon lit up top to bottom with Earnhardt’s famous No. 3.

Lap 3 also saw the first elimination in Sunday’s race. Derrike Cope, who capitalized on Earnhardt’s flat tire on the final lap to win the 1990 Daytona 500, suffered a tire failure and crashed out of what was likely his final career Cup start.

Cope was driving the No. 15 entry for Rick Ware Racing. Earnhardt drove the No. 15 entry for Bud Moore during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, earning – of course – three wins during that span.

The following year, Earnhardt returned to Richard Childress’ No. 3 Chevrolet for good.

NASCAR weekend schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will take the following weekend off before the season resumes at Nashville Superspeedway. NBC and USA will broadcast each series the rest of the year, beginning at Nashville.

Sonoma Raceway

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Forecast is for a high of 70 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

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)

Saturday, June 10

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)

Sunday, June 11

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 27th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.