‘A smarter, better guy’: Kyle Larson reflects on his winning run and lessons of the last year

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NASHVILLE – NASCAR star Kyle Larson will skip reveling in any glamor and glory — the hottest racing driver in America is good with literally flying coach.

After winning $1 million in the All-Star Race last Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway, the winningest driver in the Cup Series this year was up by 6 a.m. Monday to catch a plane out of the DFW airport among the rest of the regular stiffs – and all so he could earn a payday that was more in line with a workingman’s wage.

For his victory Monday night in an All Star Circuit of Champions race, Larson pocketed a cool $6,000 at Wayne County Speedway in tiny Orrville, Ohio.

“Obviously, I don’t think about the purse of the race; I just see it as another race on my schedule and another opportunity to go get better,” Larson told NBC Sports. “So it’s cool, and I do get enjoyment out of flying commercial and just being normal because I am normal.

“I think a lot of people think of NASCAR drivers as living the private life, the luxurious life. But I don’t. It was cool to win a million bucks and then go get not much sleep and race a sprint car the next day.”

Larson scored another $6,000 All Star Circuit of Champions victory Wednesday night in Waynesfield, Ohio, and then drove his motorhome to Nashville Superspeedway in the dead of night – more proof of his passion for racing.

“Don’t get me wrong, it gets busy, and I wish I could have went home after the race and see my family because I haven’t seen my kids in a few weeks, but I also look at it as this is my job,” said Larson, who credits sprint car team owner Paul Silva with providing winning cars nightly. “This is what I love to do, and I want to be the best. There’s a lot that goes into it, but it all comes down to just I love driving race cars. And the summer months are really busy, but it’s fun.

“I like being a guy that’s bridging the gap between all different forms of racing, especially now that I’m in the Dirt Late Model stuff, too. I think that’s helped bridge the gap between sprint car fans and Late Models. Now that I’m back racing NASCAR, I hear it nightly from fans that I’m the reason they’re back watching NASCAR. So it makes me feel really special and like I’m doing something good for the sport. I’ve always looked up to Tony Stewart, and I looked up to that that he was bridging a gap.”

NASCAR Cup Series NASCAR All-Star Race
Kyle Larson won the NASCAR All-Star Race for the second time last week, earning a $1 million first prize (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

After his commitment to dirt racing once drew detractors within the NASCAR industry, Larson has noticed NASCAR now is promoting his short-track triumphs because “I think they realize the grassroots fan is a big part of what we need to target to help grow our sport and racing in general.”

For Larson, who turns 29 next month, to become a heavily advertised face of NASCAR’s premier series is remarkable, given that barely a year has passed since he was suspended for using a racial slur during an iRacing event.

He completed the sensitivity training and other NASCAR obligations for reinstatement and being hired by Hendrick Motorsports last October, but Larson has remained committed to raising money (his goal is $500,000 in 2021) and awareness through his charitable foundation and his work with the Urban Youth Racing School, which introduces minority students to motorsports.

Larson has donated two simulators to the school and regularly provides driving advice to UYRS students.

FRIDAY 5: Urban Youth Racing School relishes bond with Larson

After losing all of his sponsors (along with the No. 42 ride at Chip Ganassi Racing) last year, there are signs that Corporate America is warming to the idea of being associated with him. Valvoline is sponsoring his No. 5 Chevrolet this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway, a decision the company’s executives have credited to Larson’s ownership of his mistake.

Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell told NBC Sports that the company had tracked the social media reaction to Larson’s return and “the vast majority of people responded very favorably and are glad he’s getting a second chance.

“He’s so impressive in his interviews, because he talks about how he’s learned from it,” Mitchell said. “We do learn from our mistakes and when we go through a tough time. Second chances are important, and he’s doing it the right way by taking advantage of his second chance and speaking out on what he’s learned. I’m sure for Kyle, it’s not easy to do, to replay what’s happened. But he’s committed to doing that. As a result, I think more people are learning from his mistake and what he’s learned.”

Said Larson: “There were a lot of lessons learned throughout last year, and I feel like it’s kind of made me a smarter, better guy today. Obviously I wish last year didn’t happen, but in a lot of ways, I’m glad it did because it helped me grow as a person. It brought me a lot closer to my friends and family and other people I’ve never talked to before, and just helping to educate myself. It’s a great teaching moment for my children as well as other kids who are growing up.

“There was more good that came out of it than bad for sure. … Life was terrible for a few weeks (after being fired and suspended), but as I got through the lowest of it, I realized there was going to be good that comes out of it.”

It also has ensured that Larson can complete “unfinished business” in NASCAR.

After briefly seeming unbeatable last year when he dropped down to race dirt full time while on suspension, the Elk Grove, California, native is the championship favorite nearing the midpoint of the 2021 season – with three victories through 16 races of his first year at Hendrick (after six wins during his previous six full-time seasons at Ganassi).

“The goal for all of us drivers is to get a championship, but I’ve always wanted to be known as one of — if not the greatest — all-around race car drivers ever,” Larson said. “And I don’t think I could have said that about myself had I not accomplished good things in Cup. I’ve had moments, but now I feel I consistently run up front.

“NASCAR racing is the highest form of American auto racing, and I’ve always wanted to be racing in the highest form. I want to accomplish good things in everything I get in every night, but NASCAR is the biggest, most-watched thing in American racing.”

At a downtown Nashville hotel where he was staying with his wife, Katelyn, ahead of this weekend, Larson sat down with NBC Sports for a wide-ranging interview June 18 about his remarkable run in the NASCAR Cup Series and dirt racing this season, the lessons learned from the tumultuous events of the past year and a few of his long-term career goals.

Here were the thoughts of the No. 5 Chevrolet driver (lightly edited for clarity):

Q: Whether it’s NASCAR, a sprint car or a dirt late model, have you ever been in this much of a zone where you win in anything every night?

Larson: “I show up to the racetrack knowing that we’re going to be competitive in all the cars that I run. I’m in some of the best equipment, so for sure, the confidence is high, but you don’t know if you’re going to win. The competition is tough in everything that I race. There’s not a race that I run that’s easy competition, so you’ve got to work hard for it, but thankfully I’m with some great car owners and crew chiefs.”

Q: Last year, you won nearly half your starts on dirt, but has this year been even better because you’ve been able to win in NASCAR’s premier series in addition to still excelling on dirt?

“It’s hard to compare the two because last year I was just a full-time dirt racer. This year, I’m still doing a lot of it, but I have the Cup stuff. My winning percentage is still good, but last year, I won half the races I was running, so last year probably felt a little different just because we were winning every other night, or I won seven in a row a couple of different times.

“This year my NASCAR racing has been going really good lately, but my dirt racing has been kind of up and down. But I think we’re finally starting to get racy more, at least in the sprint car, where we can get into a rhythm and get our car better and start getting it like we were last year.”

Q: We’ve heard more about your commitment to watching film of your races and constantly studying data this season. Have you rededicated yourself to improvement in NASCAR in your return?

Larson: “Not at all. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different than I’ve ever done before. I just think my race cars now are extremely good. I’ve always put the work in and watched lots of video and studied SMT data and studied notes and talked to my team and stuff like that. Now I just think the race cars are extremely good, and our pit crew is doing a great job, and everybody is executing where it all kind of comes together, and you can have success.

“I think you can look at my past results, and my love for dirt racing, and people would always say that, ‘Well, he was more focused on that than NASCAR.’ But I don’t view it as anything different. A NASCAR race, I approach it the same as I do a dirt race. I’m always trying to figure out how to be better and all that. It’s nothing too different for me.”

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Kyle Larson celebrates with his wife, Katelyn, after winning at Sonoma Raceway, his first NASCAR victory on a road course (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

Q: So maybe your attention to detail previously was overlooked?

Larson: “I feel like in the past when you don’t run good in NASCAR but are running good in dirt, I think that’s where fans or media or people on the team think I’m more focused on one thing than the other. But like I said, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just another race car.

“I want to win every race. I put the work in on everything. It’s just sometimes your car’s just not good that day, then you can’t win. But I’m always working hard. And I think maybe this year we have a little bit more data and information to look at then what I’m used to, but aside from that, I’m doing everything that I’ve ever done.”

Q: After you won the All-Star Race, you were asked what you would do with the $1M, you said, “I’m going to save for sure.” That struck me as the answer of someone who isn’t just wise with his money but also aware that things can change and be taken away in an instant. Is that a fair assessment?

Larson: “Yeah. Even when I won the last All-Star Race (in 2019), I don’t think I bought anything. But then I think, too, after last year, when you’re making a lot of money, and life is great, and all of a sudden, you’re making zero dollars. It’s like, ‘Oh crap. You don’t have enough money.’ (laughs)

“I feel like in the past, my wife would get upset about me going to race dirt all the time, but there’s real money to be made racing dirt cars. Between the merchandise and racing, it’s a good income. So I’m trying to just make as much as I can and provide for my family. Because it could all be gone in an instant.”

Q: And Kyle Larson merchandise and T-shirt sales are still strong at dirt tracks?

Larson: “Yeah. They’re stronger than they are at the NASCAR races.”

Q: What was it like wrestling with the gut-checks last year about whether you’d be able to race again or race in NASCAR again, and has that also made you appreciate this year more?

Larson: “There was never a moment where I didn’t think I would race again, because I always knew I could fall back on dirt racing, but up until, gosh, like August or September, maybe even later, I didn’t think I would ever race in NASCAR again. Now I probably do appreciate going to a NASCAR race even more because I didn’t think that I would ever get to do it again.

“But I’d also kind of expected throughout last year, ‘Well, this is my new life, and I’m going to be racing 100 times a year, and I’m going to love it and make the best of it.’ There’s a lot that you kind of think about. ‘Gosh, am I going to have to homeschool my kids now?’ There’s a lot of sacrifices and stuff with that and traveling up and down the road. It’s a fun lifestyle, but it’s really tough. So I’m thankful for being back in NASCAR.”

Q: What changed by August or September that you realized you’d get another shot?

Larson: “I just had a good year going last year, and I think people had started to kind of learn what I was doing off the track. And then it started becoming more of a reality, and that was always my goal, because I felt like I had a lot of unfinished business on the racetrack and in NASCAR.

“I’ve always believed in myself that I could do it and compete at a high level weekly. I just hadn’t ever been able to show it before. It was always a goal of mine to get back and wanted to do the work to do everything right to get back. But it wouldn’t be possible without a guy like Rick Hendrick, who can accomplish a lot of things on and off the track to get things done.”

NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600
Kyle Larson and team owner Rick Hendrick celebrate in victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway after Larson won the Coca-Cola 600, the record 269th victory by Hendrick Motorsports (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images).

Q: At Pocono Raceway next week, 30 students are expected to attend from the Urban Youth Racing School, where you have formed some strong connections. What’s the backstory?

Larson: “Chevrolet has been a big part of their school, and in the past, three to four years ago, I’d go to Philadelphia just once a year to attend their banquet. It’s not just me; other drivers have done it in the past. But everything that happened last year, they reached out and at first wanted to have a conversation with me and ask what happened and why I said what I said. But through that and the great conversations I had with (founders and principals) Anthony and Michelle (Martin) and Jysir (Fisher, a student).

“I grew a closer connection to them and have been way more involved with the school and donating simulators and talking to their students. They’ll call once a month or so at random times. ‘Hey, I’m running COTA or whatever, and how do I get around here?’ (laughs) And I’ll talk them through my mindset and how to make them go faster. It’s cool to have that connection with them and know that they appreciate me, and I appreciate them and build on that friendship and relationship, not only with Anthony and Michelle but all the kids, too.”

Q: After being suspended for the racial slur last year, you did everything necessary for reinstatement by NASCAR, but Rick Hendrick and others noted you went well beyond that. What else have you done and why was that important?

NASCAR Cup Series NASCAR All-Star Race
Kyle Larson has finished first or second in five consecutive Cup Series races (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Larson: “There was a lot. I was busy last year racing, but when I wasn’t racing, I was trying to do as much as I could off the racetrack to educate myself for sure. And also just do good things. Immediately after (being suspended), I did NASCAR sensitivity training, and I just felt there was a lot more I needed to do personally to learn more about other people’s experiences. Through my manager’s relationship with Tony Sanneh, I got to go to Minneapolis and do a food drive with them one day before a race in Minnesota. That was before George Floyd passed away. Another couple of months later, I came back and got to do more stuff with them and educate myself and doing stuff with Anthony and Michelle Martin at the Urban Youth Racing School. I started my own foundation.

“There was a lot of stuff I did last year just to educate myself and make myself a better person. I feel like all of last year was humbling. I like that. I like to feel like I’m a normal person just blending in, and that was a good thing to do. I continue to do a lot of stuff with the Urban Youth Racing School and my foundation is giving back to those other communities that helped me out last year. That was always important to me to give back and just educate myself.”

Q: What were some of the most challenging and impactful conversations that you had in the aftermath?

Larson: “It was tough. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and they were all tough because I’d known that I’d let them down. That’s tough. Anytime you let somebody down, it hurts you, so hurting them was really bad. But getting to talk to Jysir and a lot of different people. Their openness to kind of forgiving me was great and kind of helped my confidence. I can move on from this and grow from it. Having those conversations were really tough, but they were good for me for sure.

Q: Jysir was with you in victory lane when you won at Dover in 2019, and he met you in person at the school last year to ask about why you’d uttered the racial slur. Was that the most difficult conversation?

Larson: “Yeah, definitely, because it was face to face. Because with COVID, a lot of my conversations were over the phone, but it’s got a different level of confidence over the phone, but when you’re face to face with somebody, it’s tough. And with Michelle Martin, she’s a very tough person. So yeah, it was definitely a tough conversation, but it was great for me. They’re awesome people.”

Q: Do you have a desire to increase your work beyond awareness about racial inequity to other causes, such as the recent spike in anti-Asian-American violence?

Larson: “I think I have more of a reason to now, for sure. Where before, had I not gone through this, I would have just sat back in the background and kind of just let it pass. I think for sure now I’ve realized that my platform and being a NASCAR driver, you can make change. I don’t think I’m going to be the outspoken guy all the time. But I think there’s definitely I can be a part of making positive change for sure.”

NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 - Practice
Kyle Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet during practice Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Q: Valvoline is on your car at Nashville, the third time this season you’ve been sponsored by a company that isn’t affiliated with team owner Rick Hendrick. How has it felt as companies have grown more comfortable with the idea of backing you again?

Larson: “I think it’s great. I think those sponsors now, they saw the work I put in, and I think they can look ahead to I can be a part of change, so I think that’s good. Valvoline has been great. They’re matching my efforts for my charity with (donations for) laps completed, top fives and things like that, so it’s cool to have partners like that. Things are definitely getting a lot better on the sponsorship side. That’s exciting. With everything that went on last year, I totally understand companies being skeptical of supporting me just from the brand side. But it’s getting better, and I’m very fortunate, very thankful.

Q: But you still have some work to do to prove you remain worthy of their support?

Larson: “I think so. Just continuing what I did last year and continue to do this year off the racetrack is important to companies, and it’s important to myself, too. Just staying active in what I was doing is good. And I think those companies see that I’m still doing good things, and they want to be a part of that.

Q:  Is part of your message that people can rebound from their mistakes?

Larson: “Yeah, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to make yourself better in anything, as long as you put in the time and effort, there’s good that comes out of everything.”

Q: So after being ingrained at Ganassi as its cornerstone driver for several years, you wind up with Hendrick. And now you’re having the greatest success of your career 14 months after it seemed like it could have been over. It seems a lot to absorb. What do you make of that journey?

Larson: “Yeah, a lot has obviously happened, and it’s crazy how life works and all that. A lot of times it feels like a dream from everything that happened last year and ending up with Rick Hendrick. It’s crazy but I’m so thankful for the opportunity, and I feel like there’s a lot of pressure. Because nobody gets a second chance at Cup racing. So I’m very fortunate and thankful for the people who believed in me throughout everything, and I want to make everybody proud, and we’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

Q: If you could go back to a year ago to the day before the day you uttered the racial slur that changed your life, and the Kyle Larson of today, what would you say is the biggest difference about yourself?

Larson: “Just a level of maturity. Awareness. Just having a level of understanding for people that I probably didn’t think about and everything was all about myself then, where now it’s not. I don’t think that way anymore. I definitely grew up a lot overnight for sure. Even through all the work I put in last year and still do this year. I’m just a more grown-up person.”

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.”

Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

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Noah Gragson will not compete in Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway because of concussion-like symptoms he experienced this week after his crash at WWT Raceway, Legacy MC announced Thursday.

Grant Enfinger will drive the No. 42 in place of Gragson.

“Noah’s health is the highest of priorities and we commend him for making the decision to sit out this weekend,” said team co-owners Maury Gallagher and Jimmie Johnson in a statement from the team. “We are appreciative that Grant was available and willing to step in since the Truck Series is off this weekend.”

The team states that Gragson was evaluated and released from the infield care center after his crash last weekend at WWT Raceway. He began to experience concussion-like symptoms mid-week and is seeking treatment.

Gragson is 32nd in the points in his rookie Cup season.

Enfinger is available with the Craftsman Truck Series off this weekend. Enfinger is coming off a victory in last weekend’s Truck race at WWT Raceway for GMS Racing, which is owned by Gallagher. That was Enfinger’s second Truck win of the season.