UNCC grad Dylan Lupton making his NASCAR Cup debut

Danica Patrick practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway for Sunday’s race.
Danica Patrick practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway for Sunday’s race. Getty Images

Recent UNC Charlotte graduate Dylan Lupton makes his first Cup start Sunday in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Lupton, who is from nearby Wilton, Calif., will drive the No. 93 Toyota for BK Racing.

Lupton moved to Charlotte from California so he could be closer to NASCAR’s base. After racing late models around the Charlotte area and landing a spot in the NASCAR Next development program, he found a part-time Xfinity Series ride in 2015 with a team owned by Tony Townley. He ran two Xfinity races earlier this season with BK Racing.

“It’s been fun so far,” Lupton said after practicing Friday at Sonoma, where he has run twice in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West. “I want to represent and do well. I’m focusing on the car now.”

Upton, who graduated in May from UNCC with a finance degree, isn’t the only driver in Sunday’s race who grew up near Sonoma – far from it. California has the most active drivers of any state in the Cup series, including Kyle Larson (Elk Grove), Jimmie Johnson (El Cajon), Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield), AJ Allmendinger (Los Gatos), Casey Mears (Bakersfield), Josh Wise (Riverside) and Matt DiBenedetto (Grass Valley).

“It seems like California has always kind of been a racing hotbed,” said Larson, who said he went to the same high school as Lupton. “California is a really long state, but all the way from southern California to northern California there are a lot of people that make it in racing. California had got the best food there is, so that is probably why.”


▪ Canadian Patrick Carpentier makes a brief return to NASCAR on Sunday when he drives the No. 32 Ford for Go FAS Racing. Carpentier, who has spent most of his career in open-wheel racing, has 44 Cup starts, the most recent in 2011 at Kansas, where he finished 30th. Carpenter’s best NASCAR moment came when he won the pole at New Hampshire in 2004, when he ran 24 Cup races.

▪ Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan were inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame on Friday. Stewart, who is retiring as a Cup driver after this season, has two career victories at Sonoma. Irvan won in 1992 and ’94, the first two-time winner at the track.

Stewart underscored his decision to retire.

“Like I’ve said, a lot of things have changed,” Stewart said. “The atmosphere has changed. There is so much stuff in the garage area that has changed that it was time for me to make a change with it. I’ve dedicated 18 years of my life to this series and it’s done great by me. I’ve made a great living doing it, but at the same time there are other things in life I want to do other than be at a NASCAR track three days a week for 38 weekends out of 52 weeks a year.

“There are just other things I want to do now. I’m just not sure of what they are yet. When you have raced for 38 years, that is all you know, all you think about, all you dream about. When you wake up, you are thinking about it, while you’re eating breakfast, that is all you do. I just can’t imagine that there is not more to life than this.”

▪ Owner Chip Ganassi, whose team won the GTE Class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans last week, was in Sonoma with his NASCAR teams Friday.

“It wasn’t until Tuesday that I woke up in Pittsburgh on Tuesday that I pinched myself and said, ‘Did that really just happen?’ ” Ganassi said of the Le Mans victory.

▪ Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest time in Friday’s second practice with a lap of 95.298 mph around Sonoma’s 1.99-mile road course, followed by Mears (95.255). Larson (95.141) had the fastest practice time in the day’s first session. Qualifying for the race is at 2:15 p.m. Saturday.