Richmond takeaways: No. 48 team’s winning call harks back to Dale Jr.


Before teaming with Alex Bowman in 2018, Greg Ives spent the first three years of his career as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief working with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It was a lesson about Richmond with Earnhardt that Ives used to help guide Bowman to Sunday’s win.

“Going back to something I learned with Dale here, I think we were running top five, top eight, something like that,” Ives recalled. “We had an adjustment late. It worked okay, but didn’t work quite exactly how we wanted.

“He didn’t yell at me, but he advised me on some of the things that this track did in the last 50 laps.”

Early on Sunday, Ives decided to “trial” those pointers during the the first adjustments to Bowman’s car following a Lap 30 competition caution.

“I didn’t think it was anything magical,” Ives said about those adjustments. “I just thought it was the right direction. Put that in our memory bank and go from there. Know that we did make adjustments based on (Bowman’s) comments and what he thought on the short run.”

Bowman’s long run speed had been much better than his short run speed Sunday. The former enabled him to get to third place when Kevin Harvick crashed to bring out a caution with 19 laps to go.

It was time for Ives to put what he learned at the start of the race to use.

“I would say, majority of the time, these races come down to restarts at the end of the race with a handful of laps to go,” Ives said. “… You have that adjustment in your mind that you’re going to use. Until it happens, you never know it’s going to work.

“That’s probably where the guys think the gamble comes from, especially when we have such a good car. But we didn’t have a good car in the circumstance that we needed to make adjustments to it. Otherwise, we were just going to struggle on the restart, probably finish third or fourth.

“If we’re sitting sixth maybe, but we’re sitting there third, have the ability to make an adjustment, allow us to take advantage of – shift our strength of our car towards the front of the run versus the end of the run.”

Bowman retained third coming out of the final pit stops and got the preferred inside lane coming to the restart with 12 laps to go.

Having been poor on short runs, Bowman focused on saving a top-five finish. Instead, he rocketed past Joey Logano and then Denny Hamlin for the winning pass with 10 laps to go.

On what exactly Ives did to his car to make that happen, Bowman replied: “I don’t have a clue.”

“I didn’t see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff,” he went on to guess. “Which is typically your go-to for short run versus long run stuff. It sure woke it up, that’s for sure.”

It wasn’t a clean race for Bowman, Ives and the No. 48 team, which had to overcome those short run woes and a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire during the Stage 2 break.

But for Ives, it made the outcome all the more rewarding.

“If we just cruised, lapped the field, cruised to a huge victory, I probably wouldn’t be as satisfied as I am right now for us to have fast cars, to battle through some adversity that we’ve been fighting, to go out there and continuously be a team, a team that doesn’t point fingers, but locks arms and go out there and get a win,” he said.

“Not once did Alex come on the radio with any other thing other than, ‘Hey, we’re going to go pass some more cars.’ That’s what I’m most proud of. That’s what real teams are made of.”

Vote of confidence for Chase

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
Chase Elliott remains without a win this season after finishing 12th on Sunday at Richmond. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Bowman’s win on Sunday means that reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott will be the last Hendrick Motorsports driver to get a victory this season.

William Byron was the first to strike at Miami. He was followed by Kyle Larson the following week at Las Vegas.

But just as Elliott himself wasn’t concerned with his performance entering Richmond, neither was HMS general manager Jeff Andrews coming out.

“As far as the (No.) 9 team, (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson), Chase, we have the utmost confidence in those two guys, in that team,” Andrews said. “Really, all the same players that were on that team last year. You go through these spells where they’ve had good runs. Look at last week, they had a really good car last week. Came up a little bit short.

“It’s not been that the performance hasn’t been there. I think more we’re looking for a little bit of the consistency. Nobody is going to work harder at it than Alan Gustafson and that team.”

On Sunday, tight handling caused Elliott to fade to 17th at the end of the first stage. He had somewhat better performance in the second stage, but could only get to 12th by that stage’s conclusion.

That would be where Elliott finished the race. It’s his fifth result outside the top 10 in nine races this season.

But Andrews senses a potential turnaround for Elliott and the No. 9 team. The next four weeks of the Cup schedule includes Talladega (2.66-mile superspeedway), Kansas (1.5-mile oval), Darlington (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval) and Dover (1-mile concrete oval).

Among those four tracks, Darlington is the only one where Elliott doesn’t have a Cup win.

“We still have a lot of racing to do here, a lot of good tracks coming up,” Andrews said. “Excited to go to Talladega next week. It’s been a good track for them. Then back to some of the mile-and-a-half stuff. We’re looking forward to that, as well.”

Penalties cost MTJ, Kyle Busch

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
Martin Truex Jr. finished fifth Sunday, but only after a pit road speeding penalty ruined his hopes of winning. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Pit road gaffes dashed shots at a win on Sunday for both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

For a while, it seemed Truex would again battle Hamlin for a win after besting him the previous week at Martinsville. Truex led over 100 laps during the first half of the race and was running second prior to his green flag pit stop at Lap 294.

But Truex was penalized for speeding and forced to pass through on pit road. He managed to stay on the lead lap, but with roughly 100 laps to go and Hamlin and Logano as stout as they were, the penalty was a killer.

“Driver screwed up our chances there for sure,” said Truex, who rallied to finish fifth for his fourth top five of the season.

With Truex out of contention, Busch sought to put himself in position to go after Hamlin and Logano. After starting the final stage in fifth, Busch climbed to third when he made his final green flag stop with 58 laps to go.

But as he dove toward pit entrance, Busch failed to get all four tires on his No. 18 Toyota below the commitment box and drew his own pass-through penalty that knocked him off the lead lap.

Busch claimed the free pass off the Harvick caution, but was unable to get higher than eighth at the finish.

“The car didn’t start off well, but (crew chief) Ben (Beshore) and the guys kept adjusting on it, and we got it a lot better,” Busch said. “There at the end, you try to get all you can on and off pit road to have a shot at the win, and I just came in there too hard and got the commitment box.”

Almirola, DiBenedetto get needed boost

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400
After a brutal start to the season, Aric Almirola enjoyed a solid run to sixth place Sunday at Richmond. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto finally notched their first top-10 finishes of the season Sunday. Almirola finished sixth to lead Stewart-Haas Racing, while DiBenedetto finished ninth for the Wood Brothers.

The result was especially needed for Almirola, who’s been emblematic of SHR’s struggles. The 2020 playoff driver suffered three DNFs and six finishes of 20th or worse in the first eight races before Sunday.

Finishing 12th in the first stage and 10th in the second stage, Almirola continued his steady drive to fifth when teammate Kevin Harvick suffered a tire failure and crashed with 20 laps to go.

Almirola retained that position following pit stops and moved up to fourth off the restart with 12 laps to go. But trying to stay in the top five took a toll.

“I really battled for fifth there at the end, but burned up my tires on the outside in the process,” he said. “Finally, a solid day for our Smithfield team. Everyone did their part, and we were mistake-free today. We showed what this team is capable of today. Let’s fire it up and keep it rolling.”

As for DiBenedetto, he and the No. 21 team began the season poorly but had stabilized recently with four consecutive top-15 finishes entering Richmond.

He was 18th at the end of Sunday’s first stage. But during the first round of green flag stops in the second stage, he caught a break. He was one of six drivers who had not yet pitted when Ryan Newman spun on Lap 141 to bring out the caution.

That effectively put DiBenedetto in and around the top 10 for the rest of the race.

He finished sixth in the second stage. Later, he just missed out on the free pass position prior to Harvick’s caution but got to return to the lead lap with a wave-around. He retained ninth place throughout the 12-lap run to the finish.

DiBenedetto was glad to finally have his team’s growing consistency pay off with a top 10.

“We couldn’t even look at (the bad finishes) and say they were self-inflicted – it was just kind of bad circumstances,” he said. “So, something that was out of our control – not as bad a luck as Aric Almirola, but it just goes to show between him and I and kind of the rough starts to the season that sometimes things have to go your way.

“And as easily as that momentum can be pretty bad, it can flip around and we haven’t even really had smooth races until today, but we’ve still been climbing up in the points. It just shows the strength of our team … digging out of that hole and doing what I’ve known all along that we’re more than capable of as a team.”

Twenty-six full-time Cup drivers have scored at least one top-10 finish this season. A 27th driver, Jamie McMurray, finished eighth in a one-off at the season-opening Daytona 500.

Full-timers still looking for their first top 10 of the season include Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer, Chase Briscoe (rookie), Anthony Alfredo (rookie), Quin Houff and Josh Bilicki.

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)

Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming a potent combination


Crew chief Randall Burnett admits that work remains, pointing to his team’s struggles on short tracks, but what he and Kyle Busch have achieved in their first year together is among the key storylines of this Cup season.

Since moving from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, Busch has won three races, tying William Byron for most victories this season.

“Our plan is to win a lot with Kyle,” car owner Richard Childress said after Busch won last weekend at WWT Raceway.

Only four times since 2008 has a new driver/crew chief combination won three of the first 15 races in a Cup season.

Busch has been that driver three times. The only other driver to do so in the last 15 years was Mark Martin in 2009 with Alan Gustafson.

Busch won three of the first 15 races in 2008 with Steve Addington. Busch also did so in 2015 with Adam Stevens. Busch went on to win the first of his two Cup championships that season.

What makes Busch’s achievement this year stand out is the limited track time Cup drivers have compared to 2008 and ’15. It wasn’t uncommon then to have three practice sessions per race weekend — totaling more than two hours. That gave new driver/crew chief combinations plenty of time on track and afterward to discuss how the car felt and what was needed.

With one practice session of about 20 minutes most Cup race weekends these days, drivers and crew chiefs don’t have that luxury. They have simulators, and crew chiefs have more data than before, but it can still take time for new partnerships to work.

“We do spend a lot of time on the simulator with Kyle,” Burnett told NBC Sports this week.

Burnett also says that SMT data has helped his understanding of what Busch needs in a car.

“I can watch what is going on during the race and maybe anticipate a little bit of what he’s got going on vs. having to wait for him to describe it to me without kind of doing it blind,” Burnett said.

Burnett admits that as each week goes by, the communication with Busch gets better.

“I’m learning the right adjustments to make when he says a certain thing,” Burnett said. “So, getting that notebook built up a little bit, I think is helping us.”

The pairing of Busch, Burnett and the No. 8 team was intriguing before the season. Burnett helped Tyler Reddick win three races last year. Busch came to RCR motivated to prove that four wins in his final three seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing was an aberration. Busch averaged more than five Cup victories a season from 2015-19.

While the combination of an elite driver and a rising team looked to be a potent match, not everything meshed. Burnett notes that it wasn’t as if the No. 8 team could use all of Reddick’s setups with Busch.

“Kyle likes to drive a little bit tighter race car, while Tyler liked to drive a little bit looser race car,” Burnett said. “We can’t just plug and play everything that we had last year that we had success with. We kind of have got to adapt it and make it work.”

There’s still room for growth. In the last 10 races, Busch has two wins, a runner-up finish, five top 10s but also five finishes of 14th or worse. Busch enters this weekend’s race at Sonoma with three consecutive top-10 finishes, tied for his longest streak of the season.

“We’ve had some really good runs,” Busch said after last weekend’s victory. “We’ve had three wins obviously, which is great, but we’ve also had some of the dismal days as well. We’ve had peaks and valleys so far this year.”

No crew chief, though, has won as often as Burnett has in the last 34 races, dating back to last July’s Road America race. He has six wins during that time. Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Kyle Larson, and Stevens, crew chief for Christoper Bell, are next with four wins each.

Burnett’s victories have come at a variety of tracks. He won on two road courses with Reddick (Road America and Indianapolis) and a 1.5-mile track with Reddick (Texas). Burnett’s victories with Busch have come at a 2-mile track (Fontana), a superspeedway (Talladega) and a 1.25-mile track (WWT Raceway).

“I think the Next Gen car really helped reset our program and kind of took those disadvantages we have had, whether it be aero or something we were missing with our vehicle geometry, whatever it may have been that we were lacking in speed with on the Gen-6 car, the Next Gen car was kind of the great equalizer,” Burnett said.

“I think our group really adapted to that well, and said, ‘OK, now, we’re back on a level playing field. How are we going to stay on top of this? What choices are we going to make? How are we going to make our cars better each week?’ … I think everybody, especially on this No. 8 team, works really well together.”

2. Teaching the way 

Tyler Reddick enters Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway as one of the favorites, having won three of the last five events on road courses, including earlier this season at Circuit of the Americas.

One of the things he learned on his climb to Cup was to have the proper attitude, a lesson he’s trying to teach his son Beau.

“We will have foot races, and he’s so damn competitive,” Reddick told NBC Sports about Beau. “He expects to be able to beat me in a foot race even though he’s 3 years old. When he loses, he loses his mind.

“That takes me back to when I was younger and kind of the same way.”

Reddick said what changed him was when he ran dirt late models.

“I ran those things for five, six years and won only a handful of times,” he said. “I just got my ass kicked all the time by guys that had been racing late models longer than I had been alive. I think you really appreciate the nice days. The days that were tough, I think in a weird way, it helped me manage those tougher days and just go right back to work and get right back into the (proper) mindset.

“I think back, there was definitely a time when I was a lot younger, running outlaw karts and doing all this stuff where like if I didn’t win two out of three classes or three out of the four classes I was running, I was really upset.”

That’s what he sees in his son’s competitive spirit.

Reddick said he noticed his Cup rookie season in 2020 that the attitude he had when younger “started to creep back in a little bit.

“But you know, the way to get out of it is just work harder. … It’s like why get mad when you can just take that, instead of expelling that anger publicly or at the people that are part of your team supporting you, why expel it that way? Just go take that energy and apply it to getting better.”

3. Looking ahead 

Although Aric Almirola signed a multi-year contract with Stewart-Haas Racing in August 2022, he told reporters this week that his future plans are “fluid.”

Almirola announced before the 2022 season that it would his final year driving full-time in Cup. He was brought back with sponsor Smithfield with the multi-year deal.

Almirola talked this week about the importance of family. He also said how that would weigh in his plans beyond this season.

“It’s still about making sure that I’m having fun and enjoying driving the race car and making sure that I can be a husband and a father and all those things, and not sacrifice that,” he said.

“I love what I do. I love my job. I love my career, but at the end of the day chasing a little bit more money and more trophies and those things is not what it’s about for me.”

Almirola, who formerly drove for Richard Petty’s team briefly in 2010 and from 2012-17, also shared a story about Petty that impacts him.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Richard, and he doesn’t ever sit down at Thanksgiving with all 200 of his trophies, ever,” Almirola said. “He sits down at Thanksgiving with his family, and he sits down to share a meal with people he cares about.

“All the time I’ve ever gotten to spend with him and talk about things outside of racing and talking about life, he’s been a huge impact on me just being able to recognize and realize that you don’t always have to chase the success, because it doesn’t really define who you are once you stop driving a race car.

“What defines who you are is how you treat other people and how you are with the people you love.”

4. More than $1 million

Last week, I spotlighted how fines for Cup technical infractions were near $1 million this season and the season isn’t half over.

The sport topped $1 million in fines for Cup technical infractions this week. As part of the penalties to Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club for an L1 infraction discovered at the R&D Center, NASCAR fined crew chief Dave Elenz $75,000 and suspended him two races.

Among the top fines this year:

$400,000 ($100,000 to each of the four Hendrick teams) as part of the penalties for modifications to hood louvers at Phoenix.

$250,000 as part of the penalties for the counterfeit part on the Stewart-Haas Racing car of Chase Briscoe. That issue was discovered at the R&D Center after the Coca-Cola 600.

$100,000 as part of the penalties to Kaulig Racing for modification of a hood louver on Justin Haley‘s car at Phoenix.

All the money from fines goes to the NASCAR Foundation.

5. Last year and this year

Something to think about.

Last year after 15 races, there were 11 different winners.

This year after 15 races, there are 10 different winners.

Last year after 15 races, the top six in points were separated by 40 points.

This year after 15 races, the top eight in points are separated by 44 points.

Rick Hendrick hopes rough racing settles down after Chase Elliott suspension


LE MANS, France (AP) — Rick Hendrick fully supports Chase Elliott as he returns from a one-race suspension for deliberately wrecking Denny Hamlin, but the team owner believes on-track aggression has gotten out of control this season and NASCAR sent a message by parking the superstar.

“Until something was done, I think that kind of rough racing was going to continue,” Hendrick told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Elliott missed last week’s race outside St. Louis as the five-time fan-voted most popular driver served a one-race suspension for retaliating against Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The two had made contact several times, with Elliott hitting the wall before he deliberately turned left into Hamlin to wreck him.

Hamlin immediately called on NASCAR to suspend Elliott, which the sanctioning body did despite his star power and the effect his absence from races has on TV ratings. Elliott missed six races earlier this season with a broken leg suffered in a snowboarding crash and NASCAR lost roughly 500,000 viewers during his absence.

Hendrick, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with NASCAR’s special Garage 56 project, told the AP he understood the suspension. NASCAR last year suspended Bubba Wallace one race for intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson, another Hendrick driver.

“Pushing and shoving, it’s a fine line, and when someone puts you out of the race, you get roughed up, emotions take over and you react,” Hendrick said. “I think maybe guys will run each other a little bit cleaner moving forward. “We understand the suspension, and nobody really likes to have to go through that, but you just do it and move on.”

Hendrick said he believes drivers have gotten far too aggressive with the second-year Next Gen car, which has not only tightened the field but is a durable vehicle that can withstand bumping and banging. Contact that used to end a driver’s day now barely leaves a dent.

It’s led to drivers being more forceful and, in Hendrick’s opinion, too many incidents of drivers losing their cool.

“There’s rubbing. But if you just harass people by running them up into the wall, every time you get to them, you get tired of it,” Hendrick said. “And that’s what so many of them do to cause accidents, but then they don’t get in the accident themselves.

“I think everybody understands the rules. But you’ve got an awful lot of tension and when you’re out their racing like that, and you are almost to the finish, and somebody just runs over you for no reason, I think the cars are so close and it’s so hard to pass, they get frustrated.”

Elliott, with seven missed races this season, is ranked 27th in the standings heading into Sunday’s road course race in Sonoma, California. He’s been granted two waivers by NASCAR to remain eligible for the playoffs, but the 2020 champion needs to either win a race or crack the top 16 in standings to make the field.

An outstanding road course racer with seven wins across several tracks, Elliott will be motivated to get his first win of the season Sunday at Sonoma, one of the few road courses on the schedule where he’s winless.

Hendrick said when he spoke to Elliott he urged him to use caution moving forward.

“I just said ‘Hey, we’ve got to be careful with that,’” Hendrick said. “But I support him, I really do support him. You get roughed up and it ruins your day, you know, you let your emotions take over.”