The Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, and their affiliated team with Christopher Bell were penalized 15 minutes in the first practice session for attempting to illegally alter the nose of their cars with bondo. Once they hit the track in Practice 1, Truex was the fastest with a speed of 176.448 mph. He posted the 10th-quickest 10-lap average.
In part because of their limited time on track, most of the Toyota drivers failed to put together 10 consecutive laps in this session. Notably, Denny Hamlin – who was also penalized 15 minutes at the end of the session – was the only driver to post a 10-lap average. His elapsed time of 30.975 was the third-worst in the field.
Chastain was second to Alex Bowman in 20-lap averages and showed consistent speed on Friday. We have considered Chastain one of our favorite dark horses this week and he is not disappointing us. The trick will be in how he manages to keep up with adjustments over the course of a 400-mile race, but a top-15 could easily be obtainable.
Aric Almirola won the first practice session, posting both the fastest single lap and the quickest 10-lap average. His top speed of 178.654 mph came near the end of the session while the leaderboard shifted quickly and most teams posted their qualification runs. Almirola’s 10-lap average of 176.398 was recorded from his second trip around the circuit through his 11th.
Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer was second-fastest in this session with a speed of 178.383 mph, which was also set late in the session. Bowyer did not set a 10-lap average, but his in five consecutive laps around the track he landed sixth on the chart.
Notably Ty Dillon was also fast in Practice 1 with a speed of 178.071 mph that landed third on the chart. Dillon had the sixth-quickest 10-lap average and landed 14th on the five-lap chart.
Joey Logano posted the quickest five-lap average in Practice 1 with an elapsed time of 30.493 seconds-per-lap.
Austin Dillon was the only driver to post a 15-lap average. He was 13th on the 10-lap chart.
Much cooler temperatures in Happy Hour limited what the drivers could learn about their car, but there is still some benefit to fantasy players by comparison. After all, every driver on the track had the same conditions and ability to improve. They did not necessarily work on the same things, but all 38 cars hit the track.
Give racers optimal conditions and they will race. Most of Final Practice was spent in large groups with a lot of side-by-side racing. If this is a preview of what we will see on Sunday, fans are in for a treat. If nothing else, they got a lot of experience racing in heavy traffic.
Jimmie Johnson won Happy Hour. He posted the fastest single lap of 179.432 mph and had the second quickest 10-lap average. Johnson was once known as the “Cookie Cutter King” for his prowess on 1.5-mile tracks, but in the twilight of his career he has lost some of that stature. We still expect that his best chance to win will come on a specialty track like a short course, road course, or superspeedway, but he will get a few top-10s on this type as well.
Kevin Harvick narrowly edged Johnson for the quickest 10-lap average with an elapsed time that was .024 seconds faster. It came at the end of the session. Harvick swept the top five last year at Vegas and this has been one of his best tracks when he has not been swept into an accident.
The 20-lap chart is a good gauge of speed when enough drivers post numbers there. On Friday evening, Bowman had the best 20 laps with an elapsed time of 30.563 seconds-per-lap, followed by Chastain, Larson, Kurt Busch, and Denny Hamlin. There are some excellent dark horses listed in that group with the Chip Ganassi Racing teammates commanding modest salaries.
Fourteen drivers posted 20 consecutive laps. Kyle Busch was the slowest of this group.
Larson was quickest on the 25-lap chart (of nine drivers). Notably Bell, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, and John Hunter Nemechek were among the 25-lap drivers as they try to get as much track time as possible.
Blaney and Kurt Busch were the only drivers to take 30 consecutive laps.
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