Parity reshaping start of Cup season

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The Next Gen car is making an impact in NASCAR nearly a year before its scheduled debut.

The result — at least Sunday — was more parity at a 1.5-mile track than often has been seen at such tracks.

With a freeze on teams updating several parts on the car as the sport prepares to transition to the Next Gen car, big teams have fewer areas to have an advantage on smaller teams.

The result is the parity that took place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a race won by William Byron. Consider:

# Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell finished sixth to give Front Row Motorsports its first top-10 result at a 1.5-mile speedway. Ever. The organization first ran a Cup race in 2005 and has run a full-time schedule with at least two cars since 2010.

# Chris Buescher won a stage and led 57 laps Sunday for Roush Fenway Racing, the most he’s led in his 189-race Cup career.

# Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman scored his first top-10 finish since 2019 on a track other than Daytona and Talladega.

# Seven different teams finished in the top 10. Those teams were Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, and Chip Ganassi Racing. JTG Daugherty Racing was 13th with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Trackhouse Racing placed 15th with Daniel Suarez.

A season that started with two first-time winners continues to show parity, in part, because of the rules.

“The rules are the rules, and they haven’t changed in a while,” Martin Truex Jr. said after his third-place finish for Joe Gibbs Racing. “Everybody is really just trying to work on the same things here each and every week. So it gives you time to work on your stuff and not have to really develop a lot of things. The smaller teams definitely get to catch up. We’ll see if it continues.”

Said McDowell: “I agree with Martin that (the parts freeze) definitely has closed the gap, but the best teams and the top teams will always be the top teams. They just consistently do it just a tad better. Pit road, execution, lighter, faster, more downforce. We’ll just take it as it goes.

“The one thing about this 34 team is we race our guts out, and if we have a 25th-place car, we’re going to race our guts out and finish 23rd. And if we’ve got a 10th-place car, we’re going to race our guts out and finish eighth.”

McDowell charged from 17th to sixth in the final 100 laps. McDowell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who finished fifth Sunday, are the only drivers to place in the top 10 in each of the season’s first three races.

“We have done a great job of making big gains,” said McDowell, who ranks fourth in points. “To be running down Kevin Harvick with five laps to go for a top five, that’s stinking awesome for us to even be in that sentence.”

How much is this parity likely to carry forward? The series heads this weekend Las Vegas Motor Speedway, also a 1.5-mile track.

“It is a different racetrack and it is worn out,” said Buescher, who struggled late and finished 19th. “You’re still going to maybe not compare it directly to Vegas, which is very fast and high grip, but you’re definitely going to be looking at Atlanta or some of these other mile-and-a-halves that are getting a little rougher, getting a little more wore out.

“So yeah, there’s definitely things that will apply. Not 100 percent of it, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot that you can learn from these types of tracks, even though the speeds are very different from the beginning of a run to the end of a run.”

Tyler Reddick, who was 13th with 50 laps to go and finished second for Richard Childress Racing, said there could be a carryover to other tracks but not all 1.5-mile speedways.

“Maybe you’ll see it at Kansas,” Reddick said. “But those kind of tracks I would agree – Darlington is another one where it may not have the size of the other mile-and-a-halves, but you move around and search for grip. I would say those couple tracks you will. But your Vegas, your repaves, those tracks, I think they’ll look a lot different than what we saw tonight because you don’t move around as much and you don’t have the tire falloff.”

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 … 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)