How team owner Matt Kaulig has made his mark in NASCAR by building ‘the perfect way’


No one knew Matt Kaulig was coming, yet many from his NASCAR team were unsurprised when he materialized unannounced at a Top Golf team outing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

On the day before AJ Allmendinger’s Xfinity Series victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Kaulig Racing closed its shop and paid for 100-plus employees (and their significant others and children) to celebrate its regular-season championship and all three of its Chevrolets making the playoffs.

Team president Chris Rice wasn’t expecting Kaulig, the entrepreneurial owner of a billion-dollar gutter protection business who was taking part in a tree-planting charity event that Friday morning in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I was on the phone with him, and he said, ‘I’ll see you in 15 minutes,’ and I didn’t really know what he was talking about,” Rice told NBC Sports. “Like, what? You’re coming here?’ ”

“I just showed up at 1 o’clock and said, ‘What bay am I in?’ ” Kaulig, 48, told NBC Sports with a laugh.

A few hours later, he commuted home via private plane for dinner … and then flew back to Concord, North Carolina, the next morning to watch Allmendinger’s fifth victory of the season. After staying over to watch the Cup race Sunday, Kaulig caught some of the Next Gen test Monday before making another round trip to Cleveland – his third in four days – to retrieve his golf clubs to play 18 holes Tuesday with Allmendinger.

“We honestly don’t know when and where Matt’s going to be when we do events like that, he just shows up out of the blue,” Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Like you turn around and, ‘Oh hey, Matt’s here!’ He’s like, ‘If everybody is here hanging out. I want to be with my people.’

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
Chris Rice (left), AJ Allmendinger and Matt Kaulig celebrate Aug. 15 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after Kaulig Racing’s first NASCAR Cup Series victory (Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

“He’s got so many things going on, but if he can be there, he will. We do a victory team lunch on Wednesday, and he flies in for that just to hang out a bit and fly home again. He does this for fun. This is not a Richard Petty or Roger Penske to a certain extreme where (racing was) his original passion. So what makes it fun for him is all of his people. And he definitely tries to make sure he spends as much time as possible with them.”

Said Rice of Kaulig, who has become one of his best friends: “It is his M.O. He wants to show his support to the race team, and even though he lives in Ohio, that this is his main priority. He knows how hard it is to win and make playoffs. So when we do, he just wants to show everybody how much he cares for them. How much he loves the race team and how appreciative he is.”

Just like its namesake’s impromptu appearances, Kaulig Racing is becoming more and more ubiquitous in NASCAR.

Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, the team will attempt to reach the Xfinity Championship 4 for the second consecutive season and possibly with half the field. Allmendinger, the regular-season champion, is tied for the points lead and in a strong position to reach his first title round, and teammate Justin Haley is just below the cutline in bidding for his second championship berth in a row.

After needing three years to earn its first victory, Kaulig Racing now has 14 victories over the last three Xfinity seasons and scored its first Cup victory by Allmendinger at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August. After successfully executing a five-year startup plan, the team is in the first of a 10-year blueprint that Rice and Kaulig discuss daily.

Next season will bring a two-car expansion into the Cup Series with Haley and likely a mix of drivers while also fielding two cars full time in Xfinity (for newcomer Daniel Hemric and Allmendinger). Through a $2 million renovation of a building purchased from Richard Childress Racing (its technical alliance partner/engine supplier), Kaulig Racing will add 80,000 square feet adjacent to its primary 90,000-square-foot shop in Welcome, North Carolina.

“We’ve done a really good job as an organization, even according to everyone else in the garage and NASCAR, we’ve built this thing the perfect way,” Kaulig said. “If you were going to do a textbook on ‘How do you build a NASCAR race team?’, they would use us. We’ve had other team owners ask us for our business plan. You can figure it out. It’s not hard to see how we do it.

“Philosophically, you either continue to grow or start to die. It’s true. It’s like everything. So we keep growing.”

Matt Kaulig’s first experience with exponential growth was in gutter protection.

Starting with a three-person staff in his basement 16 years ago, his LeafFilter dealership mushroomed from $350,000 in revenue to $1.75 million within its first three years. By 2015, Kaulig had acquired the company, which has since grown to more than 130 locations, $1.5 billion in revenue and nearly a million customers.

LeafFilter now is the flagship brand of Kaulig Companies, which has interests in financial services, consumer products, marketing, sports/entertainment and philanthropy (supporting more than 70 nonprofits through giving programs).

It’s helped turned Matt Kaulig, who was named a 2017 entrepreneur of the year by Ernst and Young, into a community pillar in Northeast Ohio. His LinkedIn bio has a background photo of Kaulig with NBA superstar LeBron James, whose foundation’s “I Promise School” is supported by Kaulig Companies’ media arm.

It was through his businesses that Kaulig took a cold call for a NASCAR sponsorship that led to bringing 60 employees to Charlotte Motor Speedway in October 2014, which ramped up to full-season sponsorship a year later and then team ownership in ’16.

After nearly six seasons, Kaulig still employs many business-to-business practices between his team and companies (whose brands often are on the cars driven by Allmendinger and Haley).

NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 250 presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina
Chris Rice, Matt Kaulig and AJ Allmendinger celebrate after the No. 16 Chevrolet’s Oct. 9 victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, the third consecutive in the Xfinity Series on the course for Allmendinger (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Kaulig Racing’s new shop is being wired by the IT department of Kaulig Companies, and Kaulig Media helps produce team content such as postrace video updates from the team owner that run on Cleveland’s NBC affiliate on Sunday nights (“We talked about being Northeast Ohio’s NASCAR team, so that’s helped with getting a big following.”).

But while his companies are heavily involved with the business of the team, Kaulig has stayed out of meddling in competition.

“The only question I really ever ask is, ‘Did we get through tech (inspection)?’ but that’s really the extent of me talking about the cars,” Kaulig said. “My role is just to be here and be supportive of Chris Rice, the drivers, the team. Showing up at Top Golf means a lot to them to know that I’m here. I’m in it. I’m not just sitting in Ohio writing checks. I actually am here and leading by example and help pump them up.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that Kaulig is all business – as Allmendinger learned shortly before his July 5, 2019 team debut at Daytona International Speedway.

“I knew I was at a different team when I walked into my lounge to get ready, and there were like 20 Coronas just sitting on the tables,” Allmendinger said. “Matt and his buddies were all there hanging out. He’s just enjoying this. If it’s not fun for him, there’s no reason for him to do it, so he’s going to have a good time.”

Racing has a history of independently wealthy team owners who have flamed out quickly, and there naturally were initial questions about Kaulig’s sustainability

Nearing the end of his first season at Kaulig, Allmendinger asked Rice “what the end game was” for his team owner.

“I knew nothing about him when I joined, and in a way, I was like, ‘How much money does he really got? It’s gutter protection,’ ” Allmendinger said. “It’s not like one of these many guys we’ve all seen that come into the sport like, ‘Hell yeah!’ and then say, “Well, shit, this is expensive. Never mind!” And Chris told me what the company and he was worth, and I was like, ‘Does he come from money?’ ‘No, he started the company,’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Credit Karma Money 250
A former starting quarterback at the University of Akron, Matt Kaulig fields the No. 11 for Justin Haley in honor of the number he wore as a college football player (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Rice also didn’t know Kaulig before he began working with him and immediately tested the relationship by asking Kaulig for a sizable down payment to secure the team’s first deal with Richard Childress Racing. A cashier’s check was on Rice’s doorstep the next day.

“You always are going into it thinking, ‘Man, is this guy for real? Is he going to really go racing?’ and that got our alliance going with RCR,” Rice said. “It showed them that we were real, and it’s been blue skies ever since. It’s been amazing.”

A dichotomy exists between the team’s fun-loving and off-the-cuff image (its motto is “Trophy Hunting”) and its adherence to strict planning.

The team’s 2021 budget was set last year, and Kaulig reviews its financials weekly.

“It’s definitely all calculated,” Kaulig said. “It appears like hey, we’re just having fun, and we keep it light. But all the other teams ask, ‘Why is everybody so happy? And why are you having fun? You’re not supposed to do this.’

“It has become more serious because we are running for a championship in the Xfinity Series. For me, it’s racing. You’re looking for fun. But there is pressure to perform. Everybody is doing it to make a living, every single person is. If one of our tire guys is doing a bad job, he’s going to lose his job. Same with the drivers. They aren’t performing, there’s a lot of pressure, because we’ll bring someone else in. That’s the business of sports. If that means your buddy is doing a not good job changing tires and isn’t fast, we’ve got to get rid of him.”

Many point to the cornerstone of Kaulig’s success as the relationship between Kaulig and Rice, who handles day-to-day business as the team’s president and consigliere.

When Kaulig first was contemplating team ownership, he was introduced by Blake Koch (his first driver) to Rice, who gave him a price tag for the startup that drew a “hard no” from Kaulig.

“I sat down with him and told him the truth, and I’ve always told him the truth,” Rice said. “Never have once had to do any different, and we became best friends. We have great conversations about everything, not only racing related but personally related. We have some amazing conversations.

“He trusts me with anything, but also man, I hold nothing back. If something goes wrong or something’s haywire, I tell him.”

Rice’s initial cost estimate was within $100,00 of what Kaulig spent after changing his mind and deciding to start the team three months before the 2016 season.

“We were spending a good amount of money on sponsorship, even in the millions, and when you’re starting a race team, it’s different than having a race team for several years,” Kaulig said. “It was a little more than I was comfortable with, but then we’re talking several months later, LeafFilter is doing great. My business is doing really good. Better than expected. So we just decided let’s do it. We can do this.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series Wawa 250
Matt Kaulig shares a hug with Justin Haley after the driver won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Aug. 28 at Daytona International Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Said Allmendinger: “He gives us all the resources we need. But you counteract that with Chris’ overseeing of the team and making sure it’s just not money being blown and wasted. It’s a great dynamic that Matt and Chris have. It’s ultimately Matt’s decision, but it’s basically on Chris to tell him yes or no. If you tell him this is the right thing to do and is going to make us better, Matt’s going to do it because he wants to win.”

The team owner has strong relationships with his drivers, too. Allmendinger said it’s “probably the most friendship with a car owner I’ve ever had.” The bond grew out of impromptu trips for celebratory golf outings (such as a last-minute trip to play TPC Michigan) after starting during the early stages of the pandemic last year.

“I really got to understand what type of person he was,” Allmendinger said. “He would call me a lot. Just for no other reason than, ‘Hey man, how you doing? You good? Can I do anything for you? What do you need?’ And as a lot of teams started cutting down, whether it was cutting people’s salary or whatever, he was the first person to step up right away and said, ‘Everybody at this shop, don’t you worry about it. You’re getting paid normal, and we’ll all get through this, but I want to make sure that’s not even on your radar.’

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
A quote from team owner Matt Kaulig hangs above the shop floor in Welcome, North Carolina (Nate Ryan).

“I know he’s my boss still, but I don’t even really look at it that way. And he makes sure that I never look at it that way. We’re just close friends, and I’m very fortunate that I drive his race car as well.”

Haley said he spends 30 minutes talking to Kaulig in his motorhome after every race and “most of the time it’s not even about racing, just about life and fun stuff.

“I’ve never seen Matt Kaulig down in the dumps,” Haley said. “He is always positive, no matter where he’s at in life, he’s always a leader. And he always is looking at the best in every situation. After every race, I go in his motorhome, and we sit for probably a half an hour and talk and most of the time it’s not even about racing. I think he’s really done a good job at leading the team and putting the right people in place. He’s just a fun, bubbly kind of guy, and he’s also super serious.”

Matt Kaulig said he made two promises to himself in becoming a NASCAR Xfinity team owner: “That I would have fun, and that it would not ruin my weekend or my life.”

But he recognizes the degree of difficulty in entering Cup next season will make the competition much more difficult – and more reminiscent of its first three Xfinity winless seasons that produced only one top five.

“When we started, and the team would talk about having a fast car and then you’re running 22nd all day, and that can dampen your spirits,” Kaulig said. “That’s tough to deal with, so it’ll be even bigger next year when we’re in the Cup Series. Now you’re running with the big boys, and now it means something. It’s not just going out to have fun and race. We’re trying to get better to do that. But I try to keep that in perspective. If we wreck, you’ll rarely see me just pissed or want to go fight somebody because they ran us off the track.

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
In moving to the Cup Series next season, Kaulig Racing will add this second building that as adjacent to its primary shop (Nate Ryan).

“That’s one of my jobs is just to make sure that everybody is in a good place, and it’s a great work environment where people are happy. Nobody wants to be around a team or if the crew chief is a jerk. It’s not fun.”

While Haley has been named the driver for one of its full-time chartered Cup cars next season, Kaulig Racing has yet to announce its plans for the second Camaro in NASCAR’s premier series, which will be moving to the revamped Next Gen model in 2022.

NASCAR Matt Kaulig
Matt Kaulig moved into NASCAR team ownership after a season of sponsorship (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Kaulig said the team is leaning toward a lineup of multiple drivers sharing the car, but “we’re still talking to drivers and sponsors to see what the options are. I’m more than fine if we have to run it that way.

“The whole thing is we want to win Xfinity championships and build our Cup program the right way,” Kaulig said. “We just don’t want to throw a bunch of money at it, and we aren’t even used to Cup as an organization. It’s not just about the driver. It’s the equipment and figuring out the program, so it’s great timing for us as far as the Next Gen car because nobody has experience with it.”

Kaulig also will benefit from increased support by Chevrolet. A contingent of General Motors executives, including the president of its North American operations, visited with Matt Kaulig before and after Allmendinger’s recent victory at the Roval – another sign of the team’s growing stature.

“It’s kind of strange because Kaulig Racing went from, even in just the time I was here, from, ‘Oh yeah, this just is one of those little teams that could,’ to ‘No, it’s a big team now,’ ” Allmendinger said. “It’s a big organization now. I keep trying to work on Matt a little bit about, ‘Hey, remember what it was like to start Xfinity and how you guys ran back then? Times that by 10 now because it’s Cup. It’s the best of the best.’

“There’s definitely going to be struggles. I think you’re going to have competitive runs, but you’re definitely going to have days that are miserable, and that’s life in the Cup Series as a brand new team. But with Matt’s drive and what he wants to get out of the sport and how truly passionate he’s gotten over the last couple of years about the sport, I think the ultimate goal is to try to be a championship-caliber team, however long it takes.”

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 … 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)

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.”