Daytona could feature unique pairings in race to make playoffs


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch’s decision to relinquish his playoff waiver creates a trickle-down effect that could alter Saturday’s Cup regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).

Simply, Ryan Blaney is in a better chance to make the playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. moves into the final playoff spot. Bubba Wallace, who needs a win to make the playoffs, will have an inexperienced teammate helping him.

Daytona marks the sixth consecutive race Busch has missed because of concussion-like symptoms since his July 23 crash in qualifying at Pocono Raceway.

“I know he’s frustrated, emotional about it,” 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin said of Busch. “We just want to support him in any way we can and give him the time off he needs to get better.”

MORE: Five with best shot to race their way into playoffs 

With Busch out, Blaney has more control of his fate. He’s 25 points ahead of Truex, who holds the final transfer spot. 

“I think our mindset is race like normal,” Blaney said Friday at Daytona. “Honestly, you always want to go up and try to win the race. You always want to get stage points. You always want to try to stay out of the wrecks. I don’t really see having any other thought process. 

“If you play conservative, you can find yourself in a bad spot at the end of the race if you just ride around at the back and don’t get stage points.”

Truex agrees.

“I think we need to go race and try to stay at the front and try to get stage points,” he said. 

There is a scenario where Truex could make the playoffs simply by pushing Blaney to the win. If Blaney won, Truex would make the playoffs because no one is close enough in points to take his playoff spot. 

But the idea of a Toyota driver pushing a Ford driver to the win at Daytona?

“If (Blaney) ended up in front of me at the end, I wouldn’t have a problem pushing him,” Truex said. “I’m not going to push a guy that hasn’t won yet. So I mean, yeah, obviously, I’m going to do what I feel like is the best opportunity for me to win or be in position to win so that would probably be the best scenario. Push Blaney into the lead and pass him coming to the checkers.”

Wallace is one of 13 drivers not in a playoff spot who could make the playoffs by winning Saturday night. While Wallace has not won at Daytona, he has three runner-up finishes there, including in the last two Cup races at the 2.5-mile speedway.

One of the challenges for Wallace is the lack of Toyotas. With only six Toyotas among the 37-car field, Toyota drivers could be at a disadvantage at a track where it helps to have several cars pushing or controlling a line. He could be racing Truex, a Toyota teammate, for the final playoff spot.

Also, with Busch out, Wallace loses a teammate at 23XI Racing who has won a Daytona 500 and has 42 Cup starts at this track. In Busch’s place is 19-year-old Ty Gibbs — who was not born when Busch made his first Daytona 500 start in 2001. Gibbs has one Xfinity start on the Daytona oval. 

“For him this weekend, this will be the first time in the pack and he gets no qualifying to feel how his car is,” Wallace said of Gibbs. “He just has to go and experience it. 

“I’ll have a good conversation with him because he is a teammate. He’s not just a Toyota teammate, he’s a 23XI teammate. For us, our goal is to get the 23 car in the playoffs. If he can play a factor in that, we have to make sure he’s prepared for that.

“Ty has been great at understanding the process and the task at hand for each and every race. He said it in our meeting Monday, he’s committed to helping us out.”

Wallace said he’ll talk to Gibbs about his gameplan so Gibbs can better help.

“I’m excited for Saturday to see how he does,” Wallace said.

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)