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.

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup


Harrison Burton made the first start of his NASCAR Cup Series partnership with the Wood Brothers in the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Burton and the Woods teamed last season as Burton jumped into full-time Cup racing after two full seasons (and four wins) in the Xfinity Series. Their first race was the Clash at the Coliseum, and it was a good start — Burton qualified for the feature and finished 12th on the lead lap.

Then things headed downhill. Crashes at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway left Burton with finishes of 39th and 33rd, respectively. After the first five races of the year, he had four finishes of 25th or worse.

Now, Season Two, and there are higher expectations. Much higher.

MORE: Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

“The start of last year was really, really rough,” Burton told NBC Sports. “It kind of put us in a hole. We got into the wreck in the 500 and crashed at Fontana. Things kind of stack up on you, and all of a sudden you’re buried in points and it’s hard to make it back up.

“But, at the end of the year, three of the last four weekends were big for us (three consecutive top-20 finishes). We need to build off that and try to get out of the West Coast swing and have a clean group of those races. That’s really important. We need to get our average finish up in the first four to five races and not put ourselves in a hole we can’t get out of, and then go from there.”

The Wood Brothers team typically brings strong cars to the Daytona 500, the season’s first point race. Trevor Bayne scored the team’s latest win in stock car racing’s biggest event in 2011.

“We ran well in the 500 last year until I was upside down,” Burton said. “We had a fast car and qualified well and finished third in our duel. Then in the second Daytona race we put ourselves in good position late, so we were in contention in both Daytona races. The speed was there, and the cars drove well.”

The team’s primary goal is to make the playoffs, Burton said. “And we want to be a contender,” he said. “Cup races are so hard. First, you have to contend. Having a good average finish is really important. If you average around 17th or 18th all year, you can kind of point your way into the playoffs, and doing that is on our minds for sure.”

MORE: Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

Burton looks for a strong start in Sunday’s Clash, which will present teams with a mix of the old and the new. Drivers got the experience of racing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and notes from that race will be useful, but the racing surface will be all new again.

“Every repave has a different tendency,” Burton said. “We’ll see how close it is to last time and how different. Obviously, there is experience on that track, but still it’s a completely new surface, so it’s going to be a mixture of old and new. There’s some knowledge we can build off of, but we kind of have to go into the weekend with that knowledge as tentative because we don’t know if the track is going to be different.”

Burton heads for Los Angeles with a win already under his belt this year. He and teammate Zane Smith, last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, won last Friday’s International Motor Sports Association’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Burton drove the finishing laps in the four-hour race. He was third with about 50 minutes to go but moved in front with 22 minutes left when leader Elliott Skeer parked. Burton outran second-place Spencer Pumpelly by .688 of a second for the win.

“I thought we could run well,” Burton said. “After the test we did, we were really fast, so I was pretty excited. But apparently there is a lot of sandbagging that goes on there, so I wasn’t sure where we were. We had to have some things go right for us, and they did.”





Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience


Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.


The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.


Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program


Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.


NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)