Five intriguing races in first half of 2022 NASCAR Cup season


With the debut of the Next Gen car as the backdrop, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season will have lots to follow from the get-go.

The season officially begins Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500. But this year, the countdown isn’t to The Great American Race.

Instead, it’s for the exhibition race known as the Clash – traditionally held at Daytona, but now heading for one of the most iconic venues in sports and entertainment.

That’s one of our five intriguing first-half races to watch…

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Feb. 6

NASCAR’s drive to create a more diverse calendar will take the sport into a venue that’s hosted nearly everything: Two Summer Olympics (with a third coming in 2028), pro and college football, presidents, popes and rock ‘n roll legends.

The centerpiece is a temporary quarter-mile track inside the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, which aims to provide the fender-banging short track action that the sport was built on.

While the Clash is an exhibition, there’s a lot riding on this.

It’s the competition debut for the Next Gen car, which is being counted on to:

  • Help boost manufacturers Chevy, Ford and Toyota’s street car sales
  • Ensure team owners save money long-term with many parts coming from single-source suppliers
  • Attract new manufacturers with its ability to incorporate electrification
  • Provide great racing, with driver skill again one-upping clean air and track position

It’s an opportunity for the sport to grab a national audience just one week before Super Bowl LVI takes place down the road in Inglewood, California.

And it’s also a chance to engage Los Angeles, one of the world’s creative centers, directly.

Yes, Auto Club Speedway has given NASCAR a foothold in Southern California since 1997. But with respect to the fine citizens of Fontana, California … Fontana is not L.A.

The City of Angels won’t be easy to crack. But if NASCAR can pull it off, a lot of opportunities could open up for the sport.

Auto Club Speedway – Feb. 27

Speaking of Auto Club Speedway, it’s back after pandemic-related issues played a role in its 2021 races being moved to the Daytona road course (which is not on this year’s schedule).

Auto Club’s return is a big one, too.

Not only will it host the first intermediate track race with the Next Gen car, it will also host the first race with NASCAR’s new speedway rules package for 2022 that includes a 670-horsepower engine and four-inch spoiler. The package will be used at all Cup speedways except Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta.

Meanwhile, we may or may not see the finale for Auto Club in its current form.

The pandemic has disrupted plans to convert the 2-mile oval into a half-mile short track. During NASCAR Championship Weekend this past November, NASCAR president Steve Phelps said he wasn’t sure if the conversion would take place by the 2023 season.

Atlanta Motor Speedway – March 20

Last July, Atlanta Motor Speedway announced it would not only repave its 1.54-mile quad oval for the first time since 1997 but also increase the banking in the turns (from 24 to 28 degrees) and narrow the racing surface.

Marcus Smith, president/CEO of Speedway Motorsports, said that drivers were consulted ahead of the announced track changes. But multiple drivers – most notably Kyle Busch, who asked for a piece of the original surface so he could “cherish what the real Atlanta is like” – indicated they weren’t.

Regardless, the new Atlanta has emerged. Its mission: Produce pack racing a la Daytona and Talladega. Last week, Goodyear tire tests took place.

“Once we got out there in a group, the pace picked up by over a second having the cars draft together,” said Kurt Busch, who won the final race on the original surface and was one of three Cup drivers to test last week along with Chris Buescher and Ross Chastain.

“There’s a lot of speed that you have by yourself and things were amplified way more than what we expected when we had just three cars drafting with each other.”

What will happen when three dozen more cars are added to the mix?

Circuit of the Americas – March 27

Cross your fingers and hope for sunshine.

Last year’s inaugural Cup race at COTA was marred by heavy rains and resulting visibility issues. Two major crashes ensued because of the conditions and the race was cut short 14 laps from the scheduled distance.

A dry do-over would be nice, especially for the Next Gen car’s first road course event.

Road racing has taken on added importance in recent years, and the Next Gen car stands to be more “in tune” with that discipline than the Gen 6 cars were. Remember all the new components coming with Next Gen: Sequential gearbox, bigger brakes, independent rear suspension, a rear diffuser, etc.

But even though they weren’t road racing-centric, the Gen 6 cars put out an entertaining road racing product with drivers that had developed solid road racing skills themselves.

It will be interesting to see if this product remains as good with the more technological Next Gen car.

World Wide Technology Raceway – June 5

With its first NASCAR Cup Series race, the comeback will be complete for the 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois, in sight of St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch.

The moment’s been coming for over a decade.

Under the leadership of Curtis Francois, the track – known colloquially as “Gateway” – re-opened in 2012 and regained its previous NHRA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series dates within a few years.

Then in 2017, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to the track. That race has become an important success for IndyCar on an oval that isn’t the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Now, the top level of America’s most popular motorsport will come to the region that spawned the Wallace brothers, Ken Schrader, and longtime NASCAR sponsor Anheuser-Busch.

Flat and egg-shaped, with Turns 1 and 2 as the tight end of the course, WWTR should provide an interesting challenge for drivers and teams alike.

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 … 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)