NASCAR drivers could use help from Tony Stewart, Indy 500 drivers on pranks


CONCORD, N.C. — Tony Stewart, you are needed back in the NASCAR garage. Immediately.

Please hurry.

Stewart, who left full-time Cup racing after the 2016 season, remains a car owner, but he’s been off competing in other forms of racing. His absence in the NASCAR garage — particularly the driver motorhome lot — is felt in many ways.

One such way he’s missed is his penchant for practical jokes. It is a lost art among NASCAR drivers, while those competing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 have made it one of the unofficial traditions of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the NTT IndyCar Series.

Tony was kind of that guy back in the day when we were first teammates,” Denny Hamlin said of the sport’s practical joker. “A lot of things. I don’t know if they were pranks or just harsh and cruel. Little brake cleaner in the driver’s seat to set your ass on fire. He was not afraid to go all out when it came to roasting you.”

Said Austin Dillon: “Tony always messed around.”

With Stewart gone, the sport has changed and hijinks among competitors have faded.

Should anyone in the Cup garage want to take over the role Stewart once had, they should look at the tricks IndyCar drivers have done for inspiration.

IndyCar drivers have a rich history of pranking each other and that continued this past week with a joke pulled on Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin, a rookie in the series. The New Zealand native was greeted by several balloon sheep on his golf cart, truck and around his motorhome at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Kiwis and sheep is an old joke,” McLaughlin said earlier this week at Indianapolis. “So it’s not the most creative message, but the way they did it, I’ll give the execution four stars.”

McLaughlin’s teammate, Josef Newgarden was not impressed with the effort.

“They could have done better than just 20 sheep balloons,” Newgarden said of the culprit or culprits. “They should have gotten 500 sheep balloons and been like here’s your 500 sheep. They should have just gone over the top. I don’t know who did it, but it was not inspiring.”

Last August at Indy, Alexander Rossi was the target of pranksters. They removed the tires from his golf cart and left it on blocks. The tires were placed atop Rossi’s motorhome. Rossi found out Colton Herta and Conor Daly were co-conspirators. Rossi tried to get Daly back by getting the keys to his motorhome in an extensive ploy that included going to the restaurant Daly was at on a date. It failed. Daly is more protective of his keys after once finding his motorhome filled with balloons.

In the 2019 season, several drivers had their scooters parked outside the media center at Circuit of the Americas. When they returned, they found their keys gone. Years earlier, the late Dan Wheldon had all of his left shoes mailed to the U.S. during a race week in Japan.

So why do IndyCar drivers play such gags on each other?

“I think it’s because we’re here (at Indianapolis) for so long, that we just get bored at some point and decide to pick on somebody, usually the new guy,” James Hinchcliffe said this past week at Indy.

“It has exploded a little bit. We’ve done some smaller inner-team ones. I had Ryan (Hunter-Reay’s) wallet for a little while and was distributing his credit cards to different people amongst the team. And I gotta tell you, man. He doesn’t take a joke very well! He was not thrilled about it!

“And though I did return all the cards, I’m not saying I didn’t take a photograph of the front and back of one of them and am just going to send these random $7-12 charges to it once a month over the next year to see if he notices. But yeah, I’m not sure who was behind the McLaughlin one. … I’ve not been staying in the bus lot this week, so I can genuinely plead innocence on this one.”

Corey LaJoie, who recalls celebrating Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s first Cup win with others by throwing lawn furniture on the roof of Earnhardt’s home, speaks with admiration at how IndyCar drivers pull tricks on one another.

They prank each other all the time,” LaJoie said. “We don’t do that so much here.”


“I think guys are scared,” LaJoie said. “ ‘Oh, he might wreck me.’ In IndyCar, you can’t really lean on somebody. You have to show some respect to those guys on the track no matter if they just dumped crickets in your bus or put balloons in your motorhome. Here (in NASCAR), somebody can lean on you and cut a left front tire down just for holding them up in the bus lot for an extra minute.

“A little bit different. I do enjoy listening to Colton Herta and Hinchcliffe and those guys dogging on each other.”

The last big public practical joke in NASCAR came three years ago by Jimmie Johnson — who is now in IndyCar.

It goes back to the inaugural Charlotte Roval race. Johnson lost control in the final chicane trying to get by Martin Truex Jr. for the win. Johnson’s car hit Truex’s car and they both spun, allowing Ryan Blaney to win.

Cole Pearn, then crew chief for Truex, saw Johnson on the way out of the track that day and lightheartedly suggested Johnson buy the team road bikes to help make up for the disappointment. So, Johnson delivered the team bikes the next week at Dover International Speedway.

The only thing is they were children’s bikes.

Such moments are rare, some drivers say, because few drivers are close to each other.

I just don’t have a relationship with many of the guys in the garage here,” reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott said. “I think it’s cool what those (IndyCar) guys do. There are a few guys I guess that are close friends here. I have close friends, a couple, but not many.”

Christopher Bell says there are friends among Cup drivers but also notes: “For the most part, we all kind of do our own thing.

“It’s a little bit different than the other forms of motorsports I’ve been around. Whenever I was around dirt track racing, everyone was probably a lot more friendly to each than what we have in the NASCAR garage for whatever reason. I think that’s why we don’t really see (pranks) because we don’t really have a relationship with other drivers.”

Newgarden cites the relationships between drivers as why IndyCar competitors pull gags on each other.

“There’s an atmosphere amongst the drivers,” he said. “We’re just as competitive as any other sport. We all want to be the best. But off the track, there’s a respect and cordialness amongst all of us that creates an environment where we can all still be us at the end of the day and not have the sport override that. So that’s what you’re seeing is the personalities and normalcy of us outside of our professional job.”

At least the Cup Series has friends Blaney and Bubba Wallace.

“I locked Bubba in the bathroom at Dover one year, in a port-a-john,” Blaney said. “I stacked a bunch of tires in front of it and he couldn’t get out.”

Wallace was stuck in there about 10 minutes. He’s not gotten Blaney back.

“Not yet,” Wallace said. “I’m letting him forget about it. It shows he hasn’t forgotten, so I’ve got to wait a couple more years.”

Until then, can Stewart return to the NASCAR garage and show the current generation some tricks to play?

NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan contributed to this from Indianapolis

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)