Run of dominance continues for Kyle Larson, No. 5 team


Kyle Larson‘s NASCAR Cup Series title defense began with a wreck at the Daytona 500.

One week later, he put things back in order.

It wasn’t without some controversy, which his Hendrick Motorsports team was quick to try and diffuse afterwards. But Larson’s win Sunday at Auto Club Speedway was his fifth in the last seven Cup points races dating back to last season.

MORE: Auto Club winners and losers

Included in this stretch are four playoff wins – three in a row (Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway), then his triumph in last November’s Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Additionally, his 607 laps led and average finish of 7.3 in this stretch are tops among all drivers.

The debut of the new Next Gen car had the potential to derail the No. 5 team’s stellar run.

But while there may be bugaboos that emerge in the weeks ahead, they’ve got a win (and a playoff berth) in their pocket.

“It definitely feels good to get a win early on in the year, because going to a new car, you don’t know if you’re going to win or not,” Larson said.

However, Larson was more enthused about the different names at the front of the field Sunday.

Among them were Tyler Reddick (won both stages, led race-high 90 laps), Erik Jones (finished third, his first top five since Oct. 2020), and Daniel Suarez (finished fourth), who fought Larson for the win in the final laps.

“(Reddick) was dominant today. (Jones) was super impressive. (Suarez) there at the end. Austin Dillon and their team did a good job,” Larson said. “I mean, I look at it as Chevys were really strong today. Chase Briscoe and their team was really good at one point.

“You had some more players or some different players, I guess, than you maybe would have had in the past. That part of it is neat to see. I think that’ll probably change as we go along with the season, but for right now, it’s pretty cool to see.”

Meanwhile, Larson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, carries the burden of replicating his team’s dominant form of a year ago with the Next Gen car.

From Daniels’ perspective, not only has nothing carried over from last year, but even the concept of how a race progresses has changed weekly.

He and the No. 5 team saw no tire falloff in the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum. Then came Daytona, which he felt raced differently; the ability to move around in the draft was canceled out as the lanes were stuck two-by-two.

Then came Sunday at Auto Club, which Daniels said played out “almost like old-school Darlington.”

“You run 10 or 15 laps, somebody blows a tire, hits the fence, you pit, and you had 12 sets of tires, and I think we used all but one,” Daniels elaborated.

“Our car, for whatever reason, was on a really fine line of a balance adjustment – like, it was a very, very small adjustment away from being comfortable, to being one side or the other of the coin of balance, which is obviously something that we will get to work on as we get more reps with the car, just to get it more comfortable for him and more consistent, that it’s not so broken up run to run.

“Luckily, we did hone in on it at the end.”

Even in the completely different landscape of the Next Gen era, that’s all that matters.

With that, the No. 5 team rolls on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Next Gen makes its debut on a traditional mile-and-a-half oval.

Larson claimed his first win as a member of Hendrick Motorsports there last spring.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three


A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals


Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.



Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension


Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.