Sonoma takeaways: So close, yet so far for JGR in Sonoma


Following Kyle Larson’s dominant victory in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, Kyle Busch put his Joe Gibbs Racing team at “about a seven” compared to Larson’s perfect 10.

Following another dominant victory by Larson on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, Busch put it in a different way that still sounded largely the same.

“We’re number two, right? I feel like that’s where we’re at,” Busch said after finishing fifth on the road course.

The result was his fourth top-five finish in the past six races. JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. also had a solid outing, finishing two spots ahead of him in third.

Neither of them had an answer for Larson.

While a run of late cautions gave brief doubt to the outcome, Sunday’s race was always his to lose. He didn’t.

With that, Hendrick Motorsports has won four races in a row after Busch and Truex opened May with back-to-back wins for JGR (Busch at Kansas, Truex at Darlington).

“(Larson) was on his own level and (Chase Elliott) and (Truex) seem to be equal,” Busch said. “We were a little off (Truex). I don’t know why. We were just overall too loose all day.”

Truex said his only hope of beating Larson was if the race ended on a long green-flag run, but even with that, he still didn’t know if that would have given him a shot. The cautions put the kibosh on that.

But while Truex knows there’s a gap between Hendrick and JGR, he’s optimistic it can be closed.

“(Hendrick is) definitely really strong, and we definitely have some work to do to catch them,” he said. “That being said, there’s always a chance. We’ve got a great team and great cars and we have some time to get with it and hopefully make some gains.

“When the playoffs start, a lot of weird things can happen and you have to take what you can get. Luckily for us, we have some good tracks in the playoffs, which is always good. They’re definitely strong and we definitely need to keep working on it.”

Ganassi rebound

For the first time all season, Chip Ganassi Racing had both of its cars inside the top 10 at day’s end.

Kurt Busch‘s sixth-place finish was his first top 10 since placing eighth at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February.

Ross Chastain placed seventh, a nice follow-up from his fourth-place showing in the wet two weeks ago at another road course, Circuit of the Americas.

The results were sorely needed after a brutal Coca-Cola 600, where mechanical problems relegated Chastain and Busch to 37th and 38th-place finishes, respectively.

Those issues prompted Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews to apologize to CGR last Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The two organizations have a technical alliance together.

While both CGR drivers finished toward the front Sunday, one had a smoother time than the other.

Busch scored points in both stages. Chastain had to recover from an incident on Lap 77 that nearly ended his run.

Entering the hairpin at Turn 11, Chastain made a late move inside of Corey LaJoie and had contact with him. The ensuing stack-up behind Chastain turned him around and left both Kevin Harvick and William Byron with considerable front end damage to their cars.

Byron’s damage was enough to eliminate him from the race. Chastain drove through the Turn 11 parking lot to return to the track. However, he was not penalized for cutting the course and took the subsequent restart in ninth place.

Better than it could’ve been

Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, and Bubba Wallace all got out of Sonoma with top-15 finishes after facing an array of obstacles.

Suarez finished 12th despite being penalized on pit road just before and just after the end of Stage 1.

He tried to enter pit road before it was closed with two laps left in the stage, but failed to beat the red lights. Then on a stop under caution at Lap 22, one of his crew members went over the wall too soon.

Strategy and a solid car enabled him to ultimately recover and challenge for a top 10. However, his afternoon ended with a last-lap incident. Contact between him and Michael McDowell in Turn 11 sent the latter spinning out of a top 10 finish (McDowell crossed the line in 28th).

The incident appeared to prompt this Twitter exchange between Suarez’s team, Trackhouse Racing, and McDowell’s team, Front Row Motorsports.

Meanwhile, Dillon finished 13th despite alternator issues that necessitated several battery changes during the race.

“We lost the alternator as soon as the race started,” he said. “It just started to lose voltage. The guys did a great job changing batteries and we were able to get sixth-place stage points that first stage. We just had to grind it out, battle it out. We kept losing track position, but we fought hard all day.”

Wallace, like Suarez, also drew a couple of penalties on pit road before salvaging a 14th-place finish.

Pitting before the end of Stage 1, Wallace was penalized for speeding on exit. Then shortly after pitting before the end of Stage 2, he suffered a flat left rear tire and was forced to nurse his car around the track to get to pit road. It was closed at this point, leading to another penalty.

The episode put Wallace one lap down, but he earned the free pass off the caution at Lap 78 and drove back into the top 15.

Afterward, Wallace credited a recent trip to Sonoma, in which he ran laps in a TA2 car with road course instructor Chris Cook, for giving him more confidence.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Wallace. “I was able to bring it over today. I just felt comfortable. We’ve still got some room to go.

“We’ve still got to figure out what we need in our Toyota Camry to make me a little bit better, but when they are telling me that I’m better than 10 cars on a road course, it’s a pretty damn good day.”

In his sights

Sonoma takeaways
Kyle Larson is gaining on Denny Hamlin for the regular season points lead. The regular season champion earns 15 playoff points. Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

As we saw last year with Kevin Harvick’s failure to make the Championship 4, playoff points do not make you bulletproof.

But you still want to have as many as you can.

With 10 races to go in the regular season, Kyle Larson has a series-leading 26 playoff points following his win Sunday at Sonoma.

But his stellar performance over the last month has put him in contention for the regular season championship – and the 15 playoff points that go with it.

Larson had a win slip away from him in May at Kansas Speedway and finished 19th. He still scored 37 points that race, thanks to earning 19 stage points. That put him ninth in regular season points, 144 points behind winless leader Denny Hamlin.

In the five races since, Larson has gained 97 points on Hamlin to pull within 47 of him. During that span, Larson’s earned seven stage wins and has finished no worse than sixth in a stage (Circuit of the Americas, Stage 2).

In the last two races, Larson has scored maximum points: 70 in last week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, 60 on Sunday at Sonoma. His points nearly doubled Hamlin’s in both races, with Hamlin scoring 36 and 31 points, respectively.

In Sunday’s post-race press conference, Larson admitted he’d thought Hamlin had sewn up the regular season title.

But now?

“We’ve had a few really good weeks where we’ve won stages, won the race these last couple weeks,” he said. “We’ve taken huge chunks out of it.

“It’s definitely a goal of mine to get those 15 bonus playoff points if you can win it. We’ve just got to keep finishing the races, gaining a lot of stage points, and finishing up front. Not making things bad, just trying to be smooth and finish the best we can.”

It’s something to keep an eye on when the Cup Series returns to points-paying action June 20 at Nashville Superspeedway on NBCSN.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.