NASCAR Cup season off to historic start with Next Gen car

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The winning teams are familiar, but what’s happening behind the leaders is historic.

Twenty-five drivers have scored at least one top-10 finish in the first three Cup races of the season. The last time more drivers did so at this point was 1973, according to Racing Insights. 

Of the 44 drivers who have competed in Cup this season, only Jacques Villeneuve (born in 1971) and Greg Biffle (born in 1969) were alive then.

Former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. noted in the offseason that this year had the potential to be topsy-turvy, as teams learned the nuances of the Next Gen car.

“There’s going to be a lot of crazy storylines early in the year,” Truex told NBC Sports in January. “There’s going to be a lot of surprises, and there’s going to be a lot of guys that have a good week, bad week, good week, bad week, hit and miss. 

“I just feel like until we get some time under our belt and find kind of a baseline of what this thing wants at certain tracks, we’re all going to be searching. We’re all going to be taking gambles on what we’re taking to the racetrack, setup-wise.”

Truex finished eighth Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his first top 10 of the season. Also scoring their first top 10 of the year this past weekend were: Alex Bowman (winner), Ross Chastain (third place), William Byron (fifth), Tyler Reddick (seventh) and Christopher Bell (10th).

Only seven times in NASCAR history have 25 or more drivers scored a top 10 in the first three races of the season. Here’s that list:

1965 — 27 drivers

1971 — 27

1960 — 26

1970 — 26

1973 — 26

1950 — 25

2022 — 25

It’s not surprising that some of these drivers are up front because of the talent they have to make it to the Cup Series,” said Greg Ives, Bowman’s crew chief, of the parity early this season. “I think leveling the playing field … with the car allows for those guys to maybe wheel it a little bit more.”

Chastain who competes for Trackhouse Racing, had the best average running position at Las Vegas at 3.82. Petty GMS Motorsports driver Erik Jones had the best average running position (4.28) the week before at Auto Club Speedway.

Chastain, who has yet to win a Cup race, led a race-high 83 laps at Las Vegas. Tyler Reddick, who has yet to win a Cup race, led a race-high 90 laps at Auto Club Speedway. 

The Next Gen car has played a significant role in balancing some fo the power in the sport, but Bowman’s victory showed that the top teams are still likely to win more often. Had the caution not come out and sent the race into overtime, Kyle Busch or Truex likely would have given Joe Gibbs Racing its first win of the season. 

“Once the bigger teams get time developing things,” Bowman said, “you’re never going to shut down the giant race teams, right?”

For now, the car continues to confound drivers. The 12 cautions Sunday matched the number of cautions last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. 

Ten of those 24 cautions have been caused by single-car spins. Among those who have brought out those cautions have been former champions Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, along with Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher, who each have won a Cup race.

After spinning Sunday at Las Vegas, Custer radioed his team: “I went too far trying to find the limit.”

After Austin Dillon lost control of his car and got into Justin Haley’s car, Dillon radioed his team: “Tell (Haley) I’m sorry, man. I didn’t think it would take off on me like that.”

A little later, Reddick spun and radioed his team: “It just snaps on me without a lot of warning.”

Aric Almirola, the only driver to have a top-10 finish in all three races this year, says there’s much to understand with this car.

“We’re still learning this car,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn about it, and we’re still trying to figure a lot of things out.”


While Kyle Busch ranted about Alex Bowman’s good fortune in winning Sunday’s race, only one driver has won more races than Bowman since the start of last year.

Here’s the list of drivers, who have won multiple races, and their victory total since the beginning of the 2021 season:

11 — Kyle Larson

5 — Alex Bowman 

4 — Martin Truex Jr.

3 — Ryan Blaney

2 — Denny Hamlin 

2 — Kyle Busch

2 — Chase Elliott 


Stage points are already proving to be important early in the season. 

Erik Jones is 15th in the season standings with 74 points, but 26 of those come from stage points. That’s 35.1% of his point total coming from stage points — the highest percentage among drivers in a playoff spot (top 16 in points). Jones finished second in both stages at Auto Club Speedway to collect 18 points.

Jones is one of three drivers in the top 16 who have more than 30% of their points from stage points. 

Brad Keselowski, who ranks 12th in the standings with 77 points, has 26 stage points. That’s 33.8% of his point total from stage points. Keselowski is helped by scoring 10 points for winning his qualifying race at Daytona. The other 16 stage points came in the Daytona 500.

Joey Logano is third in the standings with 104 points. He has scored 33 stage points. That’s 31.7% of his point total from stage points. 

On the other side is Almirola. While he has the best average finish this year at 5.7, he ranks sixth in the standings because he’s only scored three stage points. That represents 3.1% of his point total of 97. 

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)