Long: It’s advantage Larson after Texas … but for how long?


FORT WORTH, Texas — Chris Gabehart had a point to make.

After the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had been loaded into the team’s hauler, Denny Hamlin’s crew chief made his thoughts clear on the advantage Kyle Larson’s team had winning Sunday’s race and securing the first spot in next month’s championship race.

“Quote it and write it down,” Gabehart told NBC Sports at Texas Motor Speedway. “It is a huge advantage. They are the best race team of the year, statistically. We are a step behind them. Kyle Larson is the most talented race car driver I have ever been on this planet to see. That’s a fact.”

Gabehart continued.

“Look at what (Larson) is doing across any type of discipline on any given week. He’s with a fantastic race team. (Crew chief Cliff Daniels) is doing a great job. He’s prepared his guys for it. Yeah, it’s an advantage. We’ve experienced a version of that the last couple of rounds. They’ve got it now.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re going to quit. That doesn’t mean we’re going to hand them the trophy. But, absolutely, it’s an advantage.”

One Gabehart can use to motivate his team.

Or get a message across elsewhere.

“There’s a reason I told you to quote it and write it down,” Gabehart said with a smile. “With that advantage, there is pressure. That’s the truth. They’ve got a huge advantage over the next two weeks. They don’t hand out the trophy out until after 312 laps at Phoenix. Hopefully, we’re there to race them for it.”

Sunday gave the winningest Cup team this season – Larson earned his eighth victory of the year – the biggest advantage going into the Nov. 7 title race at Phoenix Raceway.

Team Penske’s Todd Gordon knows how significant it can be. But the crew chief for Ryan Blaney also knows that the advantage is not absolute in this case.

Gordon was Joey Logano’s crew chief when they won the 2018 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway to become the first team to earn a spot in that year’s championship race. Logano won the the title that year. It’s the last time a driver who won the first race in the Round of 8 went on to win the crown.

Gordon told NBC Sports that having those extra weeks to prepare for the championship race while fellow playoff contenders raced to secure a spot was “huge for us.”

That’s why Gordon called Sunday’s race “the most important race. You win this one, (Larson’s team) has nothing to worry about at Kansas, nothing to worry about at Martinsville. … They can work on what they need to do at Phoenix. That can become the team’s priority.”

That can mean deeper dives on race strategy, race preparation and car preparation. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but every little bit can help.

The other seven playoff teams must focus on the Oct. 24 race at Kansas. For those who don’t secure a title spot there, they have one final chance to do so Oct. 31 at Martinsville. 

Gordon noted that there is a key difference in his situation with Logano in 2018 and what Larson and Daniels have this year.

In 2018, Logano was the only remaining driver from Team Penske in the playoffs when he secured his spot in the title race, which was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“As soon as we won, the whole shop focused everything, all Team Penske went to Homestead,” Gordon said.

That isn’t a luxury for Hendrick Motorsports.

The organization seeks to get reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott back to the championship race. Elliott is eight points behind Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot. While Elliott has two wins this year, both were on road courses. His last win on an oval was last year’s championship race at Phoenix.

Daniels noted after Sunday’s race at Texas how much of a priority it is to get Elliott in the title event.

I think as a company, now we’ve got to put our focus on making sure we get (Elliott) to Phoenix, as well, but our job is still going to go win races every week, if we can, and that’s our goal,” Daniels said.

Daniels also noted the advantage his team would have over the other three title teams.

Phoenix will mark the first time in more than two months that Cup teams will practice and qualify before the race. Daniels said that means the haulers with the team cars will have to leave each shop a couple of days earlier than normal. That’s fewer days to work on those cars before they are transported.

“So, now we are very fortunate that we have a little bit more time just to really plan out the way the next three weeks can go with emphasis on Phoenix – where if you’re not locked in right away, you’re kind of giving everything you can for that week,” he said.

Now that it’s all been said, we’ll see how it plays out in the coming weeks.

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on goprn.com. … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)