Nashville takeaways: Kyle Larson shows another side in recent win streak


LEBANON, Tenn. — Whether he’s saving fuel, defending a lead or managing his car, Kyle Larson has displayed a calmness during his recent win streak.

Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway proved another test for this season’s winningest Cup driver, once known for not always winning when he dominated an event.

His biggest challenge Sunday came not from the competition but from circumstances he couldn’t control: Cautions and trash.

MORE: NASCAR on NBC Podcast discusses Kyle Larson’s success in NASCAR and sprint cars

After pitting on Lap 219 under caution, Larson was told he was six laps short of fuel. A caution soon after cut that total to three laps short.

Crew chief Cliff Daniels’ instructions were to build the lead and they’d address fuel conservation. As Larson led, trash landed on his front grille. The engine temperatures began to rise. He closed on a lapped car and the trash blew off, preventing the temperatures from climbing dangerously high.

“There was paper and plastic flying all over the track all day long,” Larson said. “There was a few times throughout the race where I got trash in the grille, would have to tuck up (to another car), get it off. Thankfully it never landed in a spot where my temps rose quickly. They just slowly rose.

“That last time it got to where it was starting to get too hot, was able to get it off quick. Was a little bit stressed out then. But I was saving (fuel), could pay attention through my mirror (and) still realize I was still pulling away.”

Larson pulling away has been a familiar sight for foes the last few weeks.

“I don’t think anybody can beat the 5 right now,” Kevin Harvick said of Larson.

No one in Cup has for more than a month.

At the NASCAR All-Star Race, Larson started the final 10-lap round in the second row behind Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron. Larson pushed Elliott into the lead. Larson passed Elliott as Brad Keselowski slipped by both on the inside. Moments later, Larson passed Keselowski on the outside

“It feels like running second to the Hendrick cars right now is an accomplishment,” Keselowski said after that race. “They are just stupid fast. I had him off Turn 4, but they just have so much speed. He just motored right back by me, like damn!”

At Sonoma, Larson and Elliott started on the front row for the overtime restart. Larson was the leader and held off Elliott through the first couple of corners and pulled away for the win.

At Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, Larson led 327 laps — including the final 94 — to win that event.

The recent stretch is a change from earlier this season when Larson lost chances to win races. It’s not inconceivable to think he could have won eight of the first 17 points races instead of four.

“At times, yeah, I can catch myself thinking about it,” Larson said. “There’s definitely been a few that have slipped away.

Most notably Kansas, Atlanta and the Daytona road course this season.

Larson led about half the race at Kansas in May but lost the lead on the next-to-last restart. On the final restart, he tried to push Ryan Blaney into the lead to make a move. Instead, he made contact with Blaney’s and hit the wall. Larson finished 19th. That race marked the 15th time in his career he had led at least 100 laps in a Cup race. He won only three of those races.

Larson led 269 of 325 laps at Atlanta in March, but Blaney passed him with nine laps to go and won the race.

Larson had just moved into second at the Daytona road course — and was on what proved to be the winning tire strategy — when he hit the tire barriers and finished 30th in February.

I think you learn from all of those times that you didn’t win,” Larson said. “Yeah, I mean, there was a lot that I learned from at Atlanta that I’m sure without even really knowing that I’m doing it that I put into my driving that has made me better to win races here lately.

Kansas was another one I could have won. I feel like there’s been a couple times now where I’ve been in the second row of being the guy pushing, restarting. I’ve done a better job of not screwing that up. You learn from every time that you don’t win.”

What’s happened to JGR?

After Martin Truex Jr. completed his dominating win May 9 at Darlington Raceway, a tidal wave of momentum has carried Hendrick Motorsports to five consecutive victories (six if you count the NASCAR All-Star Race).

In the points races since Darlington, Hendrick cars have led 89.8% of the 1,246 laps run. Joe Gibbs Racing cars have led 4.2% of those laps.

Hendrick cars have combined for an average finish of 7.4 in that span compared the JGR’s average finish of 16.9.

NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500
Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are searching for the success they had earlier this season. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin said before Sunday’s race at Nashville Superspeedway that they were “off a ways for sure” on speed compared to the Chevrolet based on practice there. Kyle Busch said a day before the race: “Flat out we suck. (Sunday) is going to be a rough day.”

The top Toyota at Nashville was Christopher Bell, who finished ninth.

Truex says it has been difficult to catch up even with Cup teams having practice at three of the last four points races (teams will have practice in only three of the remaining 19 race weekends).

Aside from Sonoma, it’s been a bit of a struggle,” Truex said at Nashville Superspeedway. “At the same time, it’s really hard to try a lot of things to find a lot of things. You look at (last weekend’s) 50-minute practice. It’s not a whole lot of time. We are running out of time just trying to change things before tech.

“The trying stuff is really difficult to do without potentially throwing away a whole weekend. We’re trying our best. Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you miss it. That’s kind of the way it goes. As a company, we obviously know we need to find more speed, and I know we’re always working on that.”

Hamlin remains confident that JGR will challenge Hendrick more this season.

“We are going to get better,” he said. “We always play the game to try to get better at the right time, so I’m not worried. Again, there is a panic button. I’m not really there yet. Frustrated, yeah, because you want to go to the racetrack and know that you’ve got a car capable of being the fastest, but again, we’ve got a few weeks to really start looking at that and say okay, we really have to catch up here.”

Chasing Charters

Kaulig Racing’s purchase of two charters for the 2022 Cup season potentially changes the market.

Taking two could leave one potential buyer out in what seems to be a crowded field. Charters are valuable because they guarantee a starting spot in each race and their payment plan far exceeds what a non-chartered team can earn.

Kaulig Racing President Chris Rice did much of the work to acquire charters from Spire Motorsports. He wonders how many more charters will be available.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Tennessee Lottery 250 - Practice
Kaulig Racing owner Matt Kaulig (left) and team president Chris Rice. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“If people sell charters, I’m going to be awfully surprised,” Rice said. “I’ll be honest with you. It’s very hard. If they do, that’s good. There may be one or two that’s left out there or maybe three. … I don’t know who’s left, who would be willing to be able to let other owners come in.”

This much is known:

Trackhouse Racing, which is co-owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull, is leasing a charter for this season and does not have a charter for next year.

23XI Racing, co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, seeks to expand to two cars and is looking for a charter.

GMS Racing announced this week that it will field a Cup team next year but has not stated if it will be a full-time or part-time effort.

Marks said he’s confident he’ll acquire a charter. If he can’t?

“We’re going to race no matter what because we’re all too passionate and too invested and too focused on the opportunity in front of us for Trackhouse — 100% we’re racing next year,” he said Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway.

Hamlin said last month at Charlotte that he wasn’t sure how much he wanted to invest in a charter with the agreement for the charter system only through 2024.

Hamlin said Saturday at Nashville that he didn’t think Kaulig’s deal changed the market much. He said 23XI Racing would “entertain” running a second car without a charter.

A lot depends on what we see the charter future going,” Hamlin said. “The model still requires you to put significant sponsor dollars on the car if you want to compete. If you just want to ride around, then that’s a whole different business model. If you want to compete, it still requires you to get eight-figure plus, plus, plus sponsor money in order to compete with the guys that have businesses that can put their thumb on you at any time.”

Hamlin said he has timeline on when he would like to have the charter matter settled but declined to reveal that date.

“I think if I put all of the pieces together before the charter – and they all come together nicely, then I don’t think that I absolutely, positively have to have one,” he said. “I think we are in a little bit of a bubble, so there are many people with their hand on the panic button, but theirs is much closer than mine is to it.”

Winning combination

Car owner Rick Hendrick’s business has sponsored Kyle Larson in 10 on the first 17 races, as companies took a wait-and-see approach on if to sponsor Larson after he was suspended last season by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur during an online event.

Sunday marked the first race for Valvoline on Larson’s car this season. The company is scheduled to be the primary sponsor for Larson Aug. 28 at Daytona in the regular season finale and Sept. 18 at Bristol in the playoffs. 

Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell said he felt confident in sponsoring Larson’s car after talking with Hendrick.

NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 - Practice
Kyle Larson’s Valvoline car at Nashville Superspeedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“It was enough for me and based on my conversation with Mr. Hendrick, because I know Hendrick Motorsports and Hendrick Automotive Group and everything Rick does is really consistent with how we want to run Valvoline,” Mitchell told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan. “It’s a people-first organization. I knew Mr. Hendrick had spent quite a bit of time with Kyle, and when he said, Kyle’s a fine young man, he’s learned. And we’re excited to have him on the team, I felt the same way.

“Now from a marketing perspective, you wonder how is the media going to respond or the general public. That part was a question mark. So from a marketing perspective, we were a little bit more cautious and waited to see how Kyle responded to the media. How he handled it early in the season. … When we listened to his interviews, we could tell he was a changed man, and he was ready to move forward.

“So the marketing team fully supported that, and we’re excited to be associated with Kyle.”

Hendrick said Larson’s success is gaining attention from other companies.

We’ve had a lot of interest,” Hendrick said after Larson’s win. “It’s growing every day. We want to wait for the right deal. We don’t want to take a piecemeal deal because I think it’s worth more to me than to do that. But it’s tremendous interest in Kyle. A lot of companies are telling me they appreciate me giving him the chance. Some of them are ready to spend some money, just not enough.”

Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers


The Next Gen racecar is the ideal vehicle for road course racers. With none of the asymmetry of previous car generations — vehicles optimized for only turning left — the new car upended the road course pecking order.

Road course ace Chase Elliott will watch this season’s first road course race from the sideline while recovering from a fractured left leg.

Elliott has won seven of the 25 Cup Series road courses races he’s run, giving him a win rate of 28.0%. That’s a little more than one win in every four races. He posts top-10 finishes 68.0% of the time.

In 2022, Elliott:

  • led the most laps (121) at road courses
  • led four of the six road course races
  • led the most laps at three of the six road course races

But he didn’t win any of them.

Tyler Reddick won on two road courses, including his first Cup Series win on the way to a three-win season. Ross Chastain, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Larson, and Christopher Bell each won one race.

Winning isn’t everything… but it’s a start

The unusually high number of spins and tire/wheel issues last year means that finishes don’t always reflect how well a driver ran.

For example: Elliott led most of the first two stages at Sonoma but had to back up during a mid-race pit stop to retighten a wheel. His average running position was 2.2 before the glitch and 15.9 after. He finished eighth.

Despite not winning in 2022, Elliott still tied for the best average finishing position on road courses. The graph below shows all drivers with average finishing positions below 12 in 2022.

A vertical bar chart showing the most consistent Next Gen road course racers

Of last year’s road course winners, only Reddick and Bell make the graph.

  • Three finishes outside the top 20 drop Chastain’s average finish to 16.7.
  • Sonoma winner Suárez had three top-five finishes and three finishes of 24th and worse for an average finish of 16.5.
  • Although Larson finished third at Road America and won Watkins Glen, his other four finishes were 29th or worse. That averages out to 19.7.

That’s not to say these drivers aren’t contenders for a win at any road course race. But I’m more interested in the most consistent Next Gen road course racers.

Only four drivers have average finishing positions under 10: Elliott, Reddick, Chris Buescher and Austin Cindric. Michael McDowell is fifth on the list, 1.3 positions back from Reddick. Bell is 0.7 positions behind McDowell.

Going beyond averages

To gain insight, I examined driver finishes by track, as shown in the graph below. Average positions are represented by gray bars, with symbols showing individual race finishes.

A scatter plot showing 2022 road course finishes by race for 2022's best Next Gen road racers
Symbols overlaps when a driver had two finishes in the same place. For example, Tyler Reddick won twice, so the two symbols are overlaid.

This graph shows, for example, that Elliott had four top 10s and two finishes out of the top 15. Buescher had the same average finishing position but had five top 10s and one 21st-place finish.

Given the issues the new car introduced, this graph suggested that I give each driver a mulligan. So I also calculated the average of each driver’s best five road course races and summarized them in the table below.

A table comparing average finishes for 2022's best next-gen road course racers

Let’s look a little deeper into three of these drivers.

Chris Buescher

Buescher won the fall Bristol race and his name always comes up when talking superspeedways.

But the Next Gen car improved Buescher’s average road course finish by 3.1 positions relative to 2021. Buescher not only matches Chase Elliott’s average finish but beats Elliott in number of top-10 finishes.

If we throw out both drivers’ worst finishes — a 21st-place at COTA for Buescher and Elliott’s P20 at the Roval — Buescher beats Elliott in average finish position.

Austin Cindric

Cindric won four road courses in the Xfinity Series and posted the third-best average finish at road courses in his first Cup Series season. His 2022 performance included four top-10 finishes on the first four road courses of the season.

But even excluding his 21st-place finish at the Roval, Cindric remains ranked behind Elliott and Buescher.

Like Buescher, Cindric’s average running position is significantly higher than his average finishing position. That raises the interesting question of whether drivers advancing last year did so because they were better in the Next Gen car, or because other drivers had trouble.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick finished 35th at Sonoma last year, 13 laps down. He had been running consistently in the top six before requiring a brake repair.

But Sonoma was Reddick’s only misstep. His other five road course finishes were all top 10s, including two wins. Excluding the Sonoma finish gives Reddick a 4.4 average finishing position for 2022 road courses — the best of any driver.

Reddick’s move from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI raises some questions about how his 2023 road course performance will compare with 2022. Excepting last week at Atlanta where an ailing Reddick finished fifth, Reddick has finished the same or worse than last year. And that’s with an additional year of experience in the Next Gen car.

It’s just as hard to predict winners this year as it was last year. But if you’re looking for drivers who can reliably finish in the top 10, these are the best choices.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.