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Kyle Larson goes last, takes pole for first Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway

Kyle Larson goes last, takes pole for first Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway

NEWTON, Iowa -- Kyle Larson was hoping for a rainout of Saturday's NASCAR Cup Series qualifying session at Iowa Speedway.

His wish wasn't granted, but in the end, it didn't matter. Larson will start from the front of the field in Sunday's Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol, the inaugural Cup race at Iowa Speedway (7 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Under the metric qualifying system, a canceled session would have put Larson, last Sunday's winner at Sonoma Raceway, on the pole for the debut race. Instead, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had to earn his fourth Busch Light Pole Award of the season and the 20th of his career.

The last driver to make a qualifying run, Larson covered the 0.875-mile distance in 23.084 seconds (136.458 mph), edging Ryan Blaney (136.311 mph) for the top starting spot by 0.025 seconds.

"It was challenging, but it wasn't as challenging as I thought it would be," said Larson, who had the benefit of watching 35 other drivers make attempts ahead of him. "It helps going out last. It helps being able to watch everybody.

"But I was hoping for rain."

Blaney felt he left some speed on the table during his two-lap run.

"I wish I could have picked up on the second lap a little more," said the reigning series champion, who added that he missed Turns 3 and 4 slightly on his second circuit.

With the qualifying session delayed for 45 minutes because of track-drying efforts from a storm that blew through during lunchtime, drivers ran only one round, with the top five drivers from Group A and the top five from Group B making up the top 10 starting positions.

The Group B drivers ran second and had a clear advantage, with all of the top five starting positions going to drivers from that group. Josh Berry (135.916 mph) will start third, followed by William Byron (135.595 mph) and Brad Keselowski (135.338 mph).

Chase Briscoe led Group A at 133.046 mph and will start sixth, followed by Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell (though Bell will drop to the rear in a backup car after crashing in Friday's practice).

The remainder of the field is ordered by group in alternating numbers. Joey Logano, sixth in Group B, starts 11th beside Denny Hamlin, sixth-fastest in Group A.

Examining Martin Truex Jr.'s legacy, from Furniture Row to JGR

Examining Martin Truex Jr.'s legacy, from Furniture Row to JGR

When Martin Truex Jr. won at Pocono Raceway on June 7, 2015, most race fans didn't read too deeply into it.

While it was nice to see Truex, who hadn't won since Sonoma in 2013, get back to victory lane after a 2014 season where his only highlight was a spat with Kyle Busch at Atlanta, the win was thought to be a fluke. A feel-good story, to be sure, but not a particularly memorable race in the grand scheme of the NASCAR record books.

Nearly a decade later, that couldn't be further from the truth.

With the official announcement that Truex will retire from NASCAR competition at the conclusion of 2024, that 2015 race at Pocono will forever be remembered as the race that saved both Truex's career and Furniture Row Racing.

That day in Pennsylvania turned out to be the catalyst for a 3 1/2-year run in which Truex won 17 races and the 2017 championship. In four seasons, Truex made the Championship Four three times. Not shabby for a driver whose best points finish prior was 11th.

As Harry Gant and Greg Biffle proved before Truex, it's still possible to win races and be a championship contender no matter how late you start your career. While Truex won his first Cup Series race at the age of 26, he didn't win his second until he was 32. Truex may have started his career in his mid-20s, but it didn't fully take off until his mid-30s.

Though Truex saw respectable results during his tenure at Michael Waltrip Racing, the infamous "Spingate" scandal in the fall of 2013 rocked MWR. Truex's primary sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, backed out, leaving Truex without a ride for 2014.

Forced to rebuild his career from scratch, Truex joined Furniture Row Racing, a team whose only Cup Series win to that point was Regan Smith's victory at the 2011 Southern 500. With Kurt Busch leaving for a fourth car at Stewart-Haas Racing, Furniture Row signed Truex, and it turned out to be a pivotal move for both parties.

While Furniture Row was forced to close its doors at the conclusion of the 2018 season, they'll forever be linked to Truex, who brought the team to heights that owner Barney Visser never could have imagined.

Had he wanted to, Truex could've easily went out with his team after 2018. With a Cup Series championship, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 all under his belt, he had built a Hall of Fame-worthy career in just four seasons.

Instead, Truex quickly found a seat with Joe Gibbs Racing, driving the No. 19 car. He lit the world on fire in 2019, winning seven races and once again making the Championship Four. He's brought his career total to 34 wins since then, and he sits fifth in the regular-season standings this year despite being winless entering this weekend's race at Iowa Speedway.

His legacy will always be that of a late bloomer who decidedly took over the NASCAR Cup Series with a team that, by every conceivable measure, had no business winning anything. His story easily makes for one of the best career renaissances in NASCAR history, and the way he rebuilt his career with an underdog team makes the tale that much more endearing.

--Who's next?

According to multiple reports, Chase Briscoe is the leading candidate to replace Truex in the No. 19 car. With Stewart-Haas Racing closing at the end of 2024 -- ironically, the same fate that met Furniture Row in 2018 -- Briscoe has been the most sought-after SHR driver, and a pairing of Briscoe and Gibbs could be a formidable one.

Briscoe is the only driver of SHR's current Cup Series lineup to boast a victory at the Cup level, and while his results have varied over his Cup Series tenure, it's clear that the quality of cars he's been driving is not up to par with the top teams in the Cup Series.

Briscoe may not step in and immediately produce the same results that Truex did for JGR, but it's not unreasonable to assume he could be a top-10 driver in the series in a new ride. With a top-tier car in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2020, Briscoe won a staggering nine races, proving he can be a threat with good equipment under him.

Joe Gibbs Racing likely won't make a decision on who will pilot the No. 19 car until later in the year, but if they choose Briscoe, he would finally have the opportunity he deserves in the Cup Series.

Martin Truex Jr. confirms he will retire from full-time racing

Martin Truex Jr. confirms he will retire from full-time racing

NASCAR veteran Martin Truex Jr. confirmed his plans to retire from full-time racing at season's end Friday, saying at a news conference that he has "achieved more than I ever thought I would."

Truex, who will turn 44 later this month, was the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion and finished the series in second place three more times since 2018. He has won 34 Cup Series races to date.

"It's been incredible. It's been a hell of a ride. I'm excited about the future, and I'm not really sure what that looks like yet," Truex said at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, ahead of this weekend's Iowa Corn 350.

Truex said he was ready to live life by his own schedule, rather than somebody else's.

"It's the right time for me," Truex said. "I've thought about it a lot for the last few seasons -- just waited for that feeling in my mind to be positive, like ‘This is OK, I'm good, and I want to do something else.'

"In the 21 years that I've done this, I've never missed a race. I've never missed a practice. I've never been late for anything. I've never missed an appearance. You live your life by a schedule that somebody makes for you, and it's just time for me to make my own schedule."

Joe Gibbs said Truex will remain with his team as a Joe Gibbs Racing ambassador. Truex may also occasionally drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, where he won consecutive titles in 2004-05.

The Athletic reported Thursday that Chase Briscoe is the top candidate to take over for Truex in the No. 19 car, but Gibbs did not commit to a succession plan when speaking Friday.

"We're still working on all that and so we just want to focus right now on Martin and all that stuff will take place later on," Gibbs said. "So, we're thrilled to kind of be here supporting, all of our guys are here. Martin means a lot to us."

Truex is a two-time Cup Series regular-season champion (2017, 2023) and won the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 in 2016 and 2019, among other highlight victories. He has yet to win this season, his last checkered flag coming at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2023.

"I would say I've achieved more than I ever thought I would," Truex said. "That being said, there's a lot of heartbreakers. There's a lot of things you go back and think about like, ‘Man, if that had turned out different.'"

Drivers expect fun, full house at Iowa Speedway series debut

Drivers expect fun, full house at Iowa Speedway series debut

Iowa Speedway gets its turn in the NASCAR Cup Series spotlight for the first time in Sunday night's Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol, and the prevailing feeling is that the inaugural event in the top series will reward fans with an eyeful and earful of excitement.

An earful would be just about right for the corn-themed state.

When NASCAR has branched out to new markets, the results have been generally fantastic, especially at the beginning, though some tracks fizzled out and are no longer listed as "present" when roll is called on the Cup Series' schedule.

Speedways in Kansas, Texas, Las Vegas and near St. Louis have made it work and do well in front of good crowds, while others in Chicago, California, Kentucky and Wisconsin had obstacles that couldn't be overcome and ultimately came to pit road and loaded up for the final time.

However, motorsports fans in the Midwest have deep roots and are plentiful. They show up in droves to harvest the bounty of tracks throughout the region, whether it is in a series governed by NASCAR, IndyCar, ARCA, or even the old K&N -- including Iowa Speedway.

"I think what's exciting for me about (Iowa) is I remember going there in K&N and Xfinity," said Chase Elliott, who has won the series' Most Popular Driver honors six straight times. "I remember fans always talking about how they wanted a Cup race, so I'm excited. ... It's been a worthy facility for a long time. I think it's good."

Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney hasn't raced there in 10 years, but he's excited to be back because of the track being wide, racy and at a unique length of 7/8th-mile.

"The fans there were always like really dedicated to the event and the weekend, no matter if it was IndyCar, trucks, Xfinity, whatever it was," Blaney said. "It's good for the area around there."

When the central Iowa city of Newton threw its hat into the motorsports ring in 2004 and decided to build a new race track, it enlisted the design services of a Midwesterner -- former NASCAR great Rusty Wallace.

To no one's surprise, Iowa Speedway turned out to be something Wallace would certainly have liked to turn left on.

A winner of 55 Cup races and the 1989 championship, the Missouri native made it known throughout his career how much he enjoyed the 3/4-mile, D-shaped short track in Richmond. It bears a strong resemblance to the speedway in Newton, a town where the Maytag Washing Machine Co. got its start in 1893.

"I do think that anytime we go to a new facility or a new town of any sort, it's been a home run," said Blaney's Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. "People show up. It's the unknown. People like change and new things. I think (adding a new track) to the circuit every year makes total sense. It's been healthy for the sport."

Among others involved in Iowa Speedway, Wallace helped build it.

The fans will come.

Report: Martin Truex Jr. expected to announce retirement

Report: Martin Truex Jr. expected to announce retirement

Martin Truex Jr. is planning to retire at the end of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, The Athletic reported Thursday.

Truex, 43, is expected to announce his retirement Friday at his pre-race news conference at Iowa Speedway ahead of this weekend's Iowa Corn 350.

Truex was the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion and a two-time regular-season champion (2017, 2023). He finished the series in second place in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and faded to an 11th-place finish last season after his stellar regular season.

Truex has won 34 Cup Series races, most recently at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2023. He also won the NASCAR Xfinity Series title in 2004 and 2005.

Chase Briscoe is a leading candidate to take Truex's spot in the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup, The Athletic reported. Briscoe, 29, is in need of a new home in 2025 when his current team, Stewart-Haas, closes up shop at the end of the current campaign.

Shane van Gisbergen's meteoric rise ushering in a new era

Shane van Gisbergen's meteoric rise ushering in a new era

When it comes to drivers in the top three series of NASCAR, Shane van Gisbergen is the biggest anomaly in the garage.

A 35-year-old road course ace from Auckland, New Zealand, van Gisbergen stunned the circuit by winning in his NASCAR debut last summer in Chicago.

Van Gisbergen has since won two races in his rookie season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and sits 10th in points after 14 races. After his first win in the series at Portland on June 1, he captured his second consecutive win at Sonoma on June 8, pushing his way past Austin Hill on the race's final restart.

In a sport where you must produce results as soon as you fire your engine, van Gisbergen has shown perhaps the most important quality in a modern-day NASCAR driver: being a quick learner. When going to tracks such as Richmond, Martinsville, Charlotte and Darlington for the first time, he hasn't made any rookie mistakes, finishing top-15 in his debut races at each.

Not only has van Gisbergen learned quickly, but he has clearly applied what he's learned on the racetrack. Of all major motorsports in the world, NASCAR may be the most physical, with contact not just being tolerated, but encouraged.

After getting moved late in the race at Austin, Texas earlier in the season by Hill, van Gisbergen repaid the favor on the final restart at Sonoma, moving him out of the way and taking the win for himself. Van Gisbergen even did a burnout in the face of Hill on the cooldown lap, proving he gives no quarter to his competitors, granted that they do the same to him.

Van Gisbergen certainly isn't a dirty driver, but he isn't one to roll over, either. Having a thick skin is crucial in NASCAR, especially in the Xfinity Series, where drivers are fighting for a potential Cup Series opportunity.

With van Gisbergen coming over from the Australian Supercars Series -- a tour where he is an 80-time winner -- many NASCAR fans thought back to the late 2000's, when the so-called "Open-Wheel Invasion" of NASCAR took place.

That period saw many successful open-wheel drivers -- names such as Dario Franchitti, Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villenueve -- start their NASCAR careers. While Montoya saw the gates of victory lane twice in the Cup Series, no other product of NASCAR's Open-Wheel Invasion ever sustained a successful Cup Series career.

Therein lies the difference between Montoya, van Gisbergen and fellow Australian Marcos Ambrose -- all of whom have won at the top level of NASCAR -- and their fellow foreign competitors. Being able to learn and adapt to stock-car racing is one thing, but putting your on-track acumen on display successfully is another beast.

Van Gisbergen has successfully soaked up countless bits of information, a perk of driving for teams such as Trackhouse and Kaulig, and has access to invaluable coaching from the likes of AJ Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and Justin Marks.

With NASCAR's Open-Wheel Invasion nearly two decades in the past, van Gisbergen has unintentionally started a new invasion of sorts himself. An Australian Supercar series invasion that has seen not just van Gisbergen, but Supercar stars such as Brodie Kostecki, Cam Waters and Will Brown all make Cup Series starts.

Kostecki made his Cup Series debut at the Indianapolis Road Course last August, while Brown and Waters made their respective Cup Series debuts at Sonoma. Van Gisbergen is the only driver of the four so far to ink a long-term deal, but exposing both NASCAR and Supercar fans to different disciplines of racing is beneficial to both parties, as it lets race fans experience different racing cultures from their living rooms.

It's hard to imagine van Gisbergen winning races, starting rivalries and even involuntarily starting a new NASCAR "invasion" when he was yet to make a NASCAR start one year ago. But his meteoric rise to NASCAR star is just another reminder that great race-car drivers truly make all the difference.

NASCAR has seen champions that started their careers on dirt tracks, go-karts and even online. They've seen champions from both Carolinas, the Golden Coast of Carolina and the midwestern plains.

Now, it seems there's a new NASCAR superstar in the making -- but instead of being from a small town in the South or a skyscraper in the city, he's a man of the people from New Zealand.

Kyle Larson takes checkered flag at Sonoma road course

Kyle Larson takes checkered flag at Sonoma road course

Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson won for the second time in the past four races at Sonoma Raceway as he claimed the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series road-course event in Sonoma, Calif.

The Elk Grove, Calif., native notched his third 2024 win and 26th career by passing Martin Truex Jr. with nine laps to go after the Joe Gibbs Racing driver had just taken the lead from Chris Buescher.

The race ended under caution after Truex ran out of gas, tying the track record for yellows with the 1990 race.

Michael McDowell, Buescher, Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain rounded out the top-five positions.

To open the second road race of 2024 and 34th all-time at the Napa Valley track, polesitter Joey Logano led before seeing the initial yellow fly for Denny Hamlin after his engine expired, the first of multiple bad incidents for JGR.

After William Byron ran off the course in Turn 1 and came to pit road with tire problems, Ty Gibbs became JGR's third driver to have issues when he smacked the Turn 1 wall on Lap 15 to force the second caution period.

After giving up the lead to pit, Logano restarted 21st and was involved in the third caution on Lap 19 when the spinning car of Chase Briscoe banged into the pole winner's No. 22 Ford and had it hit again by Harrison Burton.

Tyler Reddick beat Ryan Blaney on a restart and crept away from the defending series champion to win the 25-lap first stage by 0.451 seconds, his third segment win this season.

A melee occurred in Turn 11 on Lap 36 when Josh Berry blocked Erik Jones. The cars of Truex, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Byron, Cam Waters and Christopher Bell were involved.

On the restart, last Sunday's winner Austin Cindric, McDowell and Noah Gragson spun off the repaved track at high speed for the seventh yellow.

Buescher, who had pitted earlier, took the lead from Reddick and claimed his second stage win by beating Ryan Preece.

Joey Logano takes Sonoma pole with track record

Joey Logano takes Sonoma pole with track record

SONOMA, Calif. -- Joey Logano claimed his third pole position of the season Saturday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway, turning a fast lap of 97.771 mph in the No. 22 Ford to better the previous track record by more than a second on the newly paved 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion will start Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 alongside 23XI Racing's Tyler Reddick, who was a slight 0.083 seconds behind Logano's time of 73.273 seconds.

"I got a little loose up in Turn 2 and probably left a little bit out there, but it's hard to hit a perfect lap every corner," said Logano, a 31-time pole winner who also won pole position at Sonoma in 2011.

"If you can average it all out to be pretty good, it works out. It was great to see the Autotrader Mustang having some speed here in Sonoma. It didn't seem too bad in race trim either, so hopefully, we turn this into a victory tomorrow."

Logano's only career road-course win came in 2015 at Watkins Glen International. His best finish at Sonoma is third, something he has done twice, including last year.

Logano's Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney, the reigning series champion, will roll off third -- both Logano and Blaney looking for their first trophy of the season. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson round out the top five.

All four Hendrick cars advanced to the final round of qualifying. William Byron, who has won three times this season, will start sixth and Alex Bowman eighth. Trackhouse Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain will start seventh and ninth, with Joe Gibbs Racing's Ty Gibbs rolling off 10th.

Current points leader Denny Hamlin of JGR will roll off 25th and his teammate, four-time and defending Sonoma race winner Martin Truex Jr., will begin 21st on the starting grid.

Two Australian Supercars drivers are making their Cup debut this weekend. Will Brown, who was third-fastest in practice, will roll off 24th in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Cam Waters will start 31st in the No. 60 RFK Racing Ford.

"This race is gonna be a lot different than what it was in the past here," Logano said. "You think about what it used to be here with a lot of tire wear. Now, the tires seem to last fairly long, so that can adjust the strategy quite a bit from what it used to be here. There are a lot of different options for the crew chiefs to try to make up their mind on how to play out the race, and time will tell."

Ryan Blaney puts 'frustrating' finish behind him as NASCAR hits Sonoma

Ryan Blaney puts 'frustrating' finish behind him as NASCAR hits Sonoma

While Ford driver Austin Cindric scored a much-needed victory with a shocking gift from a Team Penske teammate outside of St. Louis last Sunday, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell will be looking for redemption as the schedule twists and turns to Northern California this weekend.

Bell and the winless Blaney, both former winners on the NASCAR Cup Series' road courses, will seek their fair returns Sunday afternoon in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at recently repaved Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Disaster struck for Blaney, the sport's defending champion, while speeding toward the white flag at Gateway with a comfortable lead over Cindric, who possessed an 85-race winless streak and owned just one previous Cup win.

Blaney ran out of gas as he came down the frontstretch and Cindric roared past him to victory. Blaney sputtered to 24th place.

Sunday's win put the 25-year-old Cindric into the championship playoff, but losing on the flat track with victory so close kept Blaney out of the title hunt for now. The No. 12 driver sits fifth in points among winless drivers.

Blaney did an exceptional job fighting off Bell, whose No. 20 Toyota was the class of the field.

"That's frustrating to drive your (butt) off to keep him behind you," Blaney said on pit road. "I don't know what happened to him, but you think you do a good job and drive your (butt) off and feel like you weathered the storm of just trying to get it home and you run out. Proud of the day. It's just one of those deals."

Blaney, whose lone road-course win came at Charlotte Motor Speedway's inaugural Roval race in 2018, has been hit-or-miss at Sonoma in seven starts.

Over four top-10 finishes, his best was third in 2019 in a race won by Martin Truex Jr., also winless so far. In the other three starts in the Napa Valley wine region, Blaney has a sour average finish of 29.3.

Bell led a race-high 80 laps at Gateway, but his Joe Gibbs Racing ride succumbed to a broke valve spring after he used all of the 1.25-mile speedway to catch Blaney in the final 25 laps.

"That one sucks, there's no way around it," said Bell, who has two wins on NASCAR's curvy courses, at the Charlotte Roval in 2022 and the Daytona Road Course in 2021. "You don't get race cars like that very often. And whenever you do, you need to take advantage of it."

A two-time winner in 2024, Bell has made three starts at the 1.99-mile road Sonoma layout. He came home ninth in the 110-lap event last season, but his average finish is only 20.

Others hopefuls include seven-time road-course winner Chase Elliott, five-time winner Truex (Sonoma's active leader with four victories) and four-time road victors Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Hendrick Motorsports icon Jeff Gordon owns the track record with five career victories, while one each from Jimmie Johnson and Larson gives the organization seven all-time.

Nine drivers have won thus far in 2024. Larson, a two-time winner so far, was granted a waiver Tuesday after skipping the Coca-Cola 600 in favor of the Indianapolis 500 and will compete for his second title in the fall.

Todd Gilliland signs multiyear extension with FRM

Todd Gilliland signs multiyear extension with FRM

Todd Gilliland, who sits 22nd in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, landed a multiyear contract extension from Front Row Motorsports (FRM) on Wednesday.

Driving the No. 38 Ford, Gilliland has led a career-best 101 laps already this season, though he has just one top-10 result, an eighth-place finish at Talladega.

He finished in the top 20 in each of the past five races, including a 16th-place finish at Madison, Ill., last weekend.

Front Row Motorsports owner Bob Jenkins said in a news release, "Todd and his family have been with my family and the team for a very long time. We've watched him grow, mature, and show all his potential behind our truck and car. It's now his time to lead us into our next phase of winning races and being a consistent playoff contender."

Gilliland added in a statement, "I want to be at Front Row Motorsports, and I want to be a part of what's happening right now. This is the time to join as a partner, a fan, and watch our next chapter. It's really cool to see it all happening, and I have to thank Bob Jenkins and (FRM general manager) Jerry Freeze for their commitment in taking the steps to make us a consistent winning and playoff organization. It's never easy, but I feel confident in our direction. I'm excited to see what the future holds."

The driver of FRM's other car, Michael McDowell, confirmed in May that he would depart the team at the end of the season. A replacement for McDowell in the No. 34 Ford has yet to be announced.

Gilliland, a 24-year-old North Carolina native, began driving full time for FRM on the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022. He spent the previous five years on the Camping World Truck Series, and he drove FRM's No. 38 Ford truck in 2020 and 2021.

He has three career wins on the Truck series but none in the Cup Series.

Stubbs: Rising star Corey Heim could be face of 23XI

Stubbs: Rising star Corey Heim could be face of 23XI

On March 19, 2022, a then relatively unknown driver from Marietta, Ga., led 22 laps en route to a victory in the Fr8 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The driver in question was a 19-year-old Corey Heim, making just his fifth career start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Over two years later, Heim is one of the hottest prospects in NASCAR, having just won his fourth Craftsman Truck Series race of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway.

At Dover and Kansas, Heim made his first two starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, turning in a respectable average finish of 23.5. Back in 2023, he won three times in the Truck Series and made the championship race.

All of this culminated in an opportunity for Heim to drive for his idol, 23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin, in a third 23XI car at Nashville on June 30 in a Cup Series race. Heim will drive the No. 50 Toyota in partnership with sponsor Mobil 1.

If you look deeper, however, Nashville might not be a one-off race for the rising star, but rather, a test session for a driver who has potential to become the face of 23XI.

According to Fox Sports, 23XI Racing is one of at least three teams that is likely to acquire a charter in the wake of Stewart-Haas Racing's closure at the end of the 2024 season. While Hamlin was tight-lipped about 23XI's charter situation at World Wide -- specifically saying the team has "bigger priorities" at the moment -- Heim becoming the third 23XI driver makes perfect sense.

At this point, the Truck Series seems more like a formality for Heim, who has eight top-five finishes and 10 top-10s in 12 Truck Series races in 2024. The only races where he hasn't finished inside the top 10? Darlington, where he was a victim of a crash, and Charlotte, where he finished second before being disqualified in post-race inspection for a lug-nut issue. Heim's racecraft and consistency have simply been unmatched since the start of 2023.

While a move up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series might make sense, few quality rides seem to be on the verge of opening up, especially in the Toyota pipeline. While the futures of Chandler Smith and Sheldon Creed -- both of whom drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series -- likely depend on whether Martin Truex Jr. calls it quits after 2024, the two drivers seem to be sticking with JGR for at least one more year.

Sam Hunt Racing, who Heim has made six Xfinity Series starts with in 2024, could be a viable option, but it would need to stick Heim in a full-time ride. With the team running only one full-time car in 2024, getting another seems unlikely.

And so, when you venture to the Cup Series, 23XI seems like the best option for Heim to further his NASCAR career. Not only will he have three Cup Series races under his belt after 2024, but it seems like Hamlin has quite the opinion of Heim.

"I certainly think he's wise way beyond his age," Hamlin said of Heim. "To be just 21 years old, it's amazing when you watch him. ... He certainly has a bright future in our sport in the long-term."

Future NASCAR Hall of Famers usually don't sing the praises of young drivers coming up the ladder without good reason. Hamlin's comments about Heim certainly don't guarantee a partnership between the two drivers going forward, but Hamlin seems to have enough respect for Heim both on and off the racetrack to the point where signing him wouldn't be the most shocking move.

Putting together a new racing team over the course of one offseason would be quite the tall task, even for a team that has done so before, but if any young driver could elevate an inexperienced team, it would be Heim, who has turned TRICON Garage -- formerly DGR-Crosley -- from infrequent winner to championship contender.

With the talent pool that currently makes up the NASCAR Truck and Xfinity Series, there's no doubt that the prospects in the sport are perhaps as good as they have ever been. But a certain 21-year-old from Marietta is head and shoulders above the rest -- and could be primed to be the newest rookie sensation in the Cup Series.

Austin Cindric wins at Gateway after Ryan Blaney's tank hits empty

Austin Cindric wins at Gateway after Ryan Blaney's tank hits empty

Austin Cindric took advantage of a Team Penske teammate's misfortune to break an 85-race winless streak and claim the Enjoy Illinois 300 Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Ill.

As reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney came down the frontstretch toward the white flag with a healthy lead over Cindric, his No. 12 Ford slowed dramatically.

"I'm out of gas!" shrieked Blaney, who is winless in 2024 and eventually finished 24th.

Cindric roared by Blaney as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time and went on to notch his second career win in 94 starts. He beat Denny Hamlin by 3.844 seconds to become the ninth different winner this season.

Rounding out the top-five finishers were Brad Keselowski, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

After scoring his third pole of the season, Michael McDowell came home 25th in his Ford.

In the drivers' third visit to the track across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, McDowell led much of the 45-lap first stage until Bell passed him in the closing circuits.

Coming off his win last Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, Bell's No. 20 Toyota again took the checkers in the segment for his third straight stage win including the Charlotte race and Gateway, beating the Fords of McDowell and Blaney.

On Lap 70, Bell passed defending race winner Kyle Busch, who had stayed out, and held the point in the 95-lap second stage, and Toyota teammate Martin Truex Jr. eased into second before pitting just before Lap 100.

After the green-flag pit stops jostled the field, six Fords paved the way, led by Penske's Cindric and Blaney.

As seventh-place Busch and eighth-place Kyle Larson ran side-by-side and wrecked into the Turn 1 wall, Bell drove off to yet another stage win on Lap 140 with Cindric nearly a second behind him.

Busch, whose last win was at Gateway a year ago, went to the garage and recorded his first DNF of 2024.

Inside the last 100 laps, the Team Penske drivers and Bell headed the field as the two camps were on different pit strategies.

Bell relinquished the lead with 46 laps remaining, and Keselowski took the point with a nine-second lead over Chase Elliott and Larson after a pit cycle.

Michael McDowell nets pole at World Wide Technology Raceway

Michael McDowell nets pole at World Wide Technology Raceway

MADISON, Ill. -- It was with an obvious sense of pride that Michael McDowell reveled in his pole-winning run on Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

McDowell claimed his third Busch Light Pole Award of the season -- and of his career. This one, however, came at a quirky flat track, not a superspeedway, where the driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, a former Daytona 500 winner, is expected to excel.

McDowell toured the 1.25-mile irregularly shaped track in 32.468 seconds (138.598 mph) in the final round of time trials to claim the top starting position for Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In the opening round, McDowell topped all qualifiers at a track-record pace of 139.241 mph (32.318 seconds)

Fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric will start beside McDowell on the front row after a final-round lap at 138.134 mph (32.577 seconds). Cindric's Team Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, qualified third at 137.982 mph.

Interestingly, McDowell and Cindric were the only two drivers in the final round to downshift to third gear in Turns 3 and 4 on their qualifying laps.

"In particular at Talladega and Atlanta (where McDowell won his first two poles this year), the driver's not a big part of whether you're going to qualify well," McDowell said. "You still have to execute. You still have to get through the gears. I don't want to take anything away from that standpoint, but it really is a matter of how fast a race car your team brought you.

"Even today, we're on the pole because I have a really fast race car. I had more pressure to execute my part on a flat track like this, where you're upshifting twice, downshifting twice... heavy brake zones-all those things. So it's more rewarding from that point to go out there and execute and do it."

Christopher Bell, last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 winner, was fourth fastest at 137.669 mph. Tyler Reddick qualified fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs and Kyle Busch, last year's winner at WWTR.

Busch was the only Chevrolet driver to make the final round. For the first time this season, no Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified in the final 10.

--Reality of Stewart-Haas closure hits home with Noah Gragson

In his heart, Noah Gragson knew the news was coming, but the actual announcement that Stewart-Haas Racing was shutting down at the end of the season still struck like a body blow.

On Tuesday, when team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas told their employees of the impending closure, rumor became reality.

"You see all the rumors, and you kind of hear different rumors and whatnot," Gragson said Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway. "If it just came out cold turkey and you didn't hear anything about it, it would be like ‘Whoa!'

"But we kind of saw it coming a little bit, so it didn't hit us as hard, but when you hear those words from Tony, it's a little different from seeing it on social media -- when it's a reality."

In his first season at Stewart-Haas, Gragson is well on his way to rehabilitating his career after drawing a NASCAR suspension and losing his ride at Legacy Motor Club for "liking" a racially insensitive post on social media last year.

Gragson has scored five top-10 results in 14 starts this season, including a best result of third at Talladega in April. Last year he had no top 10s in 21 starts with Legacy.

It would be naïve to suggest that Gragson hasn't started to think about where he'll land in 2025. Nevertheless, he's determined to make the most of the remainder of the current season.

"I keep on preaching to our guys and our group that we can only control what we can control," said Gragson, who won eight NASCAR Xfinity Series races with JR Motorsports in 2022 before moving to NASCAR's top division.

"We have an opportunity this weekend, and we're not even halfway through the season yet. "We have a lot more races and weekends to enjoy together and to become a race team that's championship level."

--NASCAR Hall of Fame selection shocked former driver Carl Edwards

Perhaps it's simply humility that accounts for Carl Edwards' low expectations on May 21 Voting Day for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Whatever the case, Edwards was so convinced that he wouldn't be elected to the Hall that he ignored a suggestion to be available by phone that afternoon and was on a plane when the results were announced.

After he landed, Edwards received a text from long-time communications manager Randy Fuller that he was part of the Class of 2025, along with fellow driver Ricky Rudd and team owner Ralph Moody.

"I didn't expect this in any way," Edwards said in a Zoom conference with reporters on Thursday. "I was shocked. I actually wasn't available at 4 p.m. when they announced it, because I thought there's no reason to be.

"It's been a huge deal to me, much bigger than I ever would have expected."

Edwards retired from NASCAR racing suddenly and unexpectedly after the 2016 season. He ended his career with 28 NASCAR Cup Series victories and two second-place finishes in the series championship.

The 44-year-old from Columbia, Missouri, also collected 38 victories and one title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Last year, he was named one of NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers.

"The longer I've been away, I appreciate the sport more and more," Edwards said. "Last year, just the honor of being part of those 75 drivers--it shocked me how much fun it was to come back to Darlington to be a part of that.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is the longer I'm away, the more I appreciate it, and this honor (the Hall of Fame) is over the top."

Joey Logano, Kyle Busch revved up for battle at Enjoy Illinois 300

Joey Logano, Kyle Busch revved up for battle at Enjoy Illinois 300

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch roll in to the St. Louis area for the NASCAR Cup Series' 15th points race Sunday, and while winless thus far, the drivers have accounted for quite a few headlines over the past two weekends.

Technically, Logano does have a win -- a $1-million, 199-lap-leading effort in the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway two weeks ago. But other than adding momentum and optimism in his camp, that victory -- which doesn't count toward Cup Series points -- will do little to help the Team Penske Ford driver secure a third Cup championship to go next to those earned in 2018 and 2022.

Owning titles in 2015 and 2019, Busch made headlines for the wrong reasons in the western North Carolina hills after Logano dominated the non-points exhibition race.

In a video that went viral on social media, he was slugged by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after a pair of incidents in the first two laps -- a far cry from Logano leading every circuit but one on the 5/8th-mile short track.

However, the two grizzled Cup stars -- 21 seasons for Busch, 17 for Logano -- have one major accomplishment they share between them as they get to Madison, Ill., and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for the Enjoy Illinois 300.

They are the only drivers who have enjoyed Illinois to the fullest so far.

Sunday's trip to the 1.25-mile track across the Mississippi River from St. Louis will be just the third time the series has raced there, starting in 2022.

Logano's No. 22 Ford beat Busch's then-No. 18 Toyota by 0.655 seconds in the 2022 event that featured 10 cautions and 12 leaders.

But Busch was one spot better last year after winning his first pole in four years, leading a race-high 121 laps and fighting off five late restarts. He eventually beat former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin by 0.517 seconds and Logano for his third win in 15 starts for Richard Childress Racing.

Two others to watch for in Sunday's 240-lap race are reigning Cup champion Ryan Blaney and 2017 title winner Martin Truex Jr., with each having a top five and top 10 in the two races.

Logano was in the news this week when he weighed in on Kyle Larson opting to run the rain-delayed Indianapolis 500 Sunday instead of packing up and heading south to Charlotte, N.C., for the Coca-Cola 600.

Choosing to skip the NASCAR event meant the Hendrick Motorsports driver wouldn't be eligible for the championship unless he gets a waiver.

"This is about the grayest rule we have in our sport, though it can be black-and-white but it's not," Logano said Tuesday on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. "But he decided the Indy 500 was more important than the Coca-Cola 600. He made the decision. He put IndyCar ahead of NASCAR."

However, Logano repositioned himself Wednesday via social media: "What Larson did for motorsports was amazing, and he should get the waiver."

Gray area versus black-and-white, NASCAR versus IndyCar, Coke 600 versus Indy 500.

Stranger yet is that nearly a week removed, NASCAR has yet to make a decision.

Why the wait?

What will change between now or over the summer that would determine whether a fan-favorite will be let into the title chase or disallowed for skipping one of its crown jewel events?

A great case can be made for either.

FRM expanding to 3 full-time Cup Series entries in '25

FRM expanding to 3 full-time Cup Series entries in '25

Front Row Motorsports will have three chartered cars in the NASCAR Cup Series next year, it was announced Wednesday.

Two cars -- Ford Mustang Dark Horses driven by Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland -- are currently being operated by the organization, which has used a third car in previous Cup Series events but hasn't had three full-time slots since 2015.

Announcements regarding next year's driver lineup will be made at a later date.

"It is good to get the news out now as we have a lot of work to do to prepare a new team," Front Row Motorsports general manager Jerry Freeze said in a statement. "All of us on the leadership team will be working through that, obtaining the parts and pieces needed for the new team. And, most importantly, adding to the dedicated and talented staff and culture that exists today within our organization."

Front Row began its Cup Series tenure as a part-time entry in 2005 before upgrading to a full-time entry in 2009.

Stubbs: Stewart-Haas closure should serve as cautionary tale

Stubbs: Stewart-Haas closure should serve as cautionary tale

For a team that has enjoyed so much success over the past 15 years, the news that Stewart-Haas Racing will shut down following the 2024 season sent shockwaves through the sport.

Yes, Stewart-Haas has reportedly been seeking buyers for its four charters for the past few months. But Tuesday's news brought no mention of buyers for those charters while creating plenty of questions about how the once-proud organization came to this ending.

It wasn't losing the 2020 championship with Kevin Harvick, despite Harvick winning nine races. It wasn't winning just two races combined in 2021 and 2022. It wasn't putting just one of four cars in the playoffs in 2023, and relying on a 48-year-old Harvick to put an entire company on his back.

For a race team, this is rock bottom. An organization that won two NASCAR Cup Series championships, Stewart-Haas Racing will shut down all four Cup Series teams and both Xfinity Series teams.

Despite poor performance over the past three seasons, Stewart-Haas seemed to be on the upswing when the haulers rolled into Daytona in February. They returned half of their 2023 lineup in Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece, and boasted new talent in rookie Josh Berry and second-year driver Noah Gragson to complete their Cup Series lineup.

In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, they returned a perennial playoff contender in Riley Herbst and the 2023 Xfinity Series champion in Cole Custer. Combined with a series of inspirational social media posts, Stewart-Haas wanted fans to believe that they were ready to shock the world and return to their dominant form in 2024.

It's an understatement to say that announcing your closure more than five months before the season ends is falling short of returning to form.

Ironically, the team's on-track performance has seen an uptick this season.

Briscoe has been floating around the Cup Series playoff bubble all season while Berry is on pace to win Rookie of the Year honors. And despite penalties incurred at Atlanta, both Gragson and Preece have put forth respectable efforts, with Gragson earning five top-10 finishes through the first 14 events of the season.

In the Xfinity Series, Custer and Herbst remain comfortably inside the postseason picture, with Custer finishing top-10 in nine of the series' first 12 races.

Unfortunately, any development taking place this season for the organization will all be for naught.

While the team will still put forth plenty of effort in a quest to reach victory lane, a Cup Series championship seems much too lofty a goal. An Xfinity Series championship, while a nice piece of hardware, would do little to console the more than 300 employees who will be seeking new jobs.

The question of how Stewart-Haas got to this point doesn't have a concrete answer, but one particular piece of evidence has many fans pointing fingers.

It seems that the team's two namesakes, three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and business mogul Gene Haas, have been frequently absent from the NASCAR circuit. While every team owner in the sport isn't at the track every week, several -- including a few north of 70 years old such as Rick Hendrick and Richard Petty -- have been spotted far more frequently than Stewart or Haas.

Both have other racing ventures to attend to, but it would certainly be a boost -- both morally and in terms of on-track performance -- if a boss like Stewart was seen more around the race shop and less on TV participating in drag racing events.

While Stewart has been more involved in drag racing in recent years, Haas has been focusing efforts on his Formula 1 team, which has produced poor results so far in 2024. Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen sit 13th and 17th in 20-driver F1 standings.

The lack of their regular presence certainly isn't the sole reason for Stewart-Haas' exit from NASCAR, but it's fair to assume it likely played a role. But whatever the reasons for Stewart-Haas' departure are -- lack of involvement from bosses, losing sponsors, a pure lack of speed on the racetrack, etc. -- their relatively sudden departure from America's most popular motorsports needs to be meticulously examined by every team owner in the garage area.

It would be hard to replicate the sudden fall from grace that Stewart-Haas Racing experienced. But if it can happen to a team that won multiple NASCAR championships and featured popular drivers throughout its time along with ties to marquee sponsors, it can happen to anyone.

NASCAR teams beware -- Stewart-Haas' demise shouldn't be seen as just another breaking news story, but rather, a cautionary tale of the uncertainty of modern day auto racing.

Stewart-Haas Racing to close operation after ‘24 season

Stewart-Haas Racing to close operation after ‘24 season

Stewart-Haas Racing will be shut down at the end of the current season, co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas revealed Tuesday.

Since being formed in 2009, the team has collected 69 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series and three NASCAR drivers' championships. Stewart won the Cup Series title as a driver/owner in 2011, Kevin Harvick won it in 2014 and Cole Custer captured the Xfinity Series championship for Stewart-Haas last year.

In a statement, Stewart and Haas said their decision to shut down was not made hastily.

"Racing is a labor-intensive, humbling sport," they said. "It requires unwavering commitment and vast resources, with a 365-day mindset to be better than everyone else. It's part of what makes success so rewarding.

"But the commitment needed to extract maximum performance while providing sustainability is incredibly demanding, and we've reached a point in our respective personal and business lives where it's time to pass the torch.

"We're proud of all the wins and championships we've earned since joining together in 2009, but even more special is the culture we built and the friendships we forged as we committed to a common cause -- winning races and collecting trophies.

The team's current Cup Series drivers are Josh Berry, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Ryan Preece. Custer and Riley Herbst drive for the Xfinity Series team.

"Stewart Haas has been home to my family and I for the last 7 years and at the end of the year myself and the entire organization will be looking for a new home and new opportunities in the Cup series," Briscoe wrote on social media. "I have amazing partners behind me and can't wait to get them back in victory lane."

Stewart and Haas' statement added that they have "tremendous respect and appreciation" for their employees and they will work to help them find new employers for after the 2024 season.

Haas has owned a Cup Series entry since 2002. Stewart partnered with him to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

Christopher Bell prevails at rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600

Christopher Bell prevails at rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600

Christopher Bell waited through a weather delay and was declared the winner of the rain-shortened NASCAR Cup Series' Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on Sunday night.

Bell paced the field as rain pelted the 1.5-mile speedway on Lap 249, bringing the drivers to pit road for the final time as Kyle Larson arrived from Indiana after competing in the Indianapolis 500.

Sporting the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Bell was announced as the race's winner at about 11:30 p.m. ET. It was his second victory of the season and the eighth of his career.

Brad Keselowski finished second, while William Byron (third), Tyler Reddick (fourth) and Denny Hamlin (fifth) rounded out the top five. Toyotas occupied four of the top six spots on the leaderboard.

Starting in place of Larson, who finished 18th in his Indianapolis 500 debut, Justin Allgaier came in 13th and was prepared to turn the car over to Larson, but the race never restarted.

After securing the first pole of his three-year career, Ty Gibbs, in his No. 54 Toyota, led the 40-car field around the 1.5-mile track until Byron took the point with 28 laps left in Stage 1's 100 circuits.

The segment featured just one caution -- occurring when BJ McLeod spun -- and Gibbs used the opportunity to get service and win the race off pit road over Byron. However, Byron ended up beating Gibbs for his first 2024 stage win.

With Bell leading, defending Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney made hard contact with the Turn 4 wall and suffered tire damage with 54 laps left in the second segment to put him out of contention.

Noah Gragson's wreck on the backstretch with 29 laps to go allowed Byron to grab the point, but Bell zoomed past Byron on Lap 189 and won the second stage under caution when Harrison Burton looped his No. 21 Ford exiting Turn 1.

The seventh caution flew on Lap 246 for rain.

Bell, who led a race-high 90 laps, and the field hit pit road as Larson's helicopter landed on the infield helipad after a jet flight from Indianapolis, prompting a driver swap with Allgaier as the red-flag condition began.

Ty Gibbs takes top qualifying time, wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

Ty Gibbs takes top qualifying time, wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

CONCORD, N.C. - Ty Gibbs saved the strongest performance of the day for the money lap in time trials for the Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Streaking around 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway in the final round of Saturday's qualifying session for NASCAR's longest race, Gibbs covered the distance in 29.355 seconds (183.955 mph) to claim the first Busch Light Pole Award of his career.

Gibbs edged William Byron (183.580 mph) by 0.060 seconds to become the second youngest Coca-Cola 600 pole winner at 21 years old. Byron was roughly a month younger than Gibbs is now when he won the pole for the Memorial Day weekend race at age 21 in 2019.

"I'm really excited for it," said Gibbs, who a day earlier won the pole for Saturday's BetMGM 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race. "And hopefully I can go out there and get my first win tomorrow.

"It really helps to start up front in clean air - it's really nice. And having that first pit stall as well is great also."

Two of Gibbs' Joe Gibbs Racing teammates qualified third and fourth, respectively, behind Byron - Christopher Bell (183.461 mph) and Martin Truex Jr. (182.871 mph). Truex had the fastest lap in the opening round at 182.902 mph but couldn't improve in the second round.

Gibbs, on the other hand, cut 0.266 seconds off his first-round time when the pole was at stake.

Byron had three teammates in the top 10 - Chase Elliott (fifth fastest), Alex Bowman (sixth) and Kyle Larson (10th). Larson planned to leave for Indianapolis after Charlotte time trials in anticipation of running the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double.

Larson was fifth fastest in Indy 500 qualifying last Sunday.

Ross Chastain was seventh fastest in Coke 600 qualifying, followed by Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell (the only Ford to make the final round) and Larson.

Reddick, however, will not start in the spot he earned. His 23XI Racing team made unapproved adjustments to the underwing of the No. 45 Toyota after passing pre-race inspection.

NASCAR penalized the team with the ejection of car chief Michael Hobson, loss of pit selection and a pass-through penalty after starting from the rear of the field on Sunday.

Reddick still had to qualify so as not to have a tire advantage in the race. All cars must start the event on their scuffed qualifying tires.

Kyle Larson prepares to complete rare Indy-Charlotte double

Kyle Larson prepares to complete rare Indy-Charlotte double

Kyle Larson's career is zooming at a rate that has to be clocked with a stopwatch and digital scoring, and race fans will get to see plenty of him this weekend.

In what is a delightfully full weekend for motorsports fans and gearheads around the world, this Sunday presents unrivaled high-speed action and competitive on-track maneuvering from one of the world's most glamorous cities to NASCAR's home turf, where bragging rights are at stake.

The Memorial Day weekend offerings start early Sunday morning with Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix then shifts to the U.S. for the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon and the NASCAR Cup Series' longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, in Charlotte in the evening.

Not a bad day of finely tuned, roaring, mechanical drama, hey?

Larson will try to compete in two-thirds of those events, similar to what he did last week when he qualified fifth for the 108th Indy 500 and quickly jetted to western North Carolina for NASCAR's All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway and ran fourth.

The 31-year-old Larson leads NASCAR's top series in points, 30 ahead of Martin Truex Jr., and ranks first in top-five finishes (six), laps led (649) and stage wins (seven).

The Elk Grove, Calif., product is also one of a trio of multiple winners through 13 races, with his two wins trailing Denny Hamlin and William Byron with three each.

Larson will race anything, it seems, and if there was physically some way to pull off a Memorial Day Triple of Monaco, Indianapolis and North Carolina's Queen City, you get the feeling the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver would try that, too.

But for now it's just Indy and Charlotte, a dicey duo of potentially 1,100 miles of racing with 400 miles of flying in between to complete The Double.

He will become the 11th driver to tackle two of racing's most prestigious tracks. Only Tony Stewart was able to run all 1,100 miles, which he did in 2001. Kurt Busch in 2014 was the last to attempt the feat.

However, Indy has an 80 percent chance of rain Sunday.

"I think for me where I sit, if it's going to rain, I hope it rains all day," Larson said Thursday. "That way it can just get pushed to Monday or something, and then Charlotte is not going to rain, I just hope it doesn't rain, and we can get (Charlotte) in on Sunday night and then come here Monday."

While race-winner Joey Logano and Larson were busy battling North Wilkesboro's newly paved surface last Sunday, another kind of fracas went on following the 200-lap short track event.

After Ricky Stenhouse Jr. waited all race and slugged Kyle Busch outside the No. 8 Chevrolet team's hauler for two incidents on the first two laps, NASCAR penalized Stenhouse $75,000, the largest fine ever for fighting.

The Olive Branch, Miss., native vowed to wreck Busch's Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet this Sunday, while Ricky Stenhouse Sr. was suspended indefinitely for his role in the incident.

Meanwhile, with Stenhouse and Busch having 400 laps in a long night at Charlotte to figure this all out, an adage that NASCAR created in 2010 to settle on-track disputes might still be applicable: "Have at it, boys."