Almirola Quickest in First Sprint Cup Session at Daytona; McMurray Fastest in Happy Hour
In the first practice session for Sprint Cup, there were two dominant strategies. One was single-car runs, preferred by teams that need to get into the race on speed Friday afternoon though some teams locked into the field did the same. The other, much more widely used strategy was to run in a large pack in order to simulate temperatures for the race.
In this setup, Aric Almirola ran the fastest lap with a time of 44.563 seconds (201.961 mph) in the middle of the draft. Almirola’s teammate Marcos Ambrose was second fastest, followed by Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle. Most of the teams locked into the field stayed out on track for roughly half of a fuel run. However, Tony Stewart turned in 49 laps in the session, by far the most of anyone. His team had a number of things that they wanted to try in the session, so they did multiple runs before eventually running out of fuel during the session.
Among the drivers that must qualify Friday on speed, Trevor Bayne was fastest with a time of 46.704 seconds (192.703 mph), good enough for 32nd quickest on the charts. Bill Elliott, driving in a one-off Walmart-sponsored No. 50 for Turner Motorsports, was the second fastest go-or-go-homer with a lap of 47.088 seconds (191.131 mph), while Mike Bliss was the third fastest.
Those drivers that could potentially be in trouble in qualifying are Robert Richardson, Jr., Stephen Leicht and J.J. Yeley, who were the three slowest drivers of those that must qualify on speed. To make matters worse for Richardson, his car started smoking during the session, forcing an early end to his on-track activities and a caution to fly.
Another team that chose an interesting strategy for the session was the No. 11, normally driven by Denny Hamlin. Due to back spasms, Hamlin chose to take Thursday off and skip the Subway Jalapeno 250 all together. Originally, Joey Logano was supposed to fill-in briefly during the first session. However, Kyle Busch ended up driving the No. 11 for a mere three laps by himself, turning a quick lap of 46.863 seconds, good enough for 33rd quickest. After that, the team finished for the day.
Multiple teams chose to sit out the second session. In fact, Brad Keselowski even held his weekly press conference at his hauler during the session (his team was one of many who skipped the session).
Just 24 cars participated and featured much of the same strategies of the opening session, just with fewer cars. The first half of the session saw a medium-sized pack on-track, while much of the rest of the time was nearly exclusive to single-car runs.
Jamie McMurray turned in the fastest lap of the session with a speed of 197.837 mph while in the big pack. Michael Waltrip was second quickest, followed by Kurt Busch, Travis Kvapil and Almirola.
In the single-car runs, Bayne was again fastest with a lap of 46.221 seconds (194.717 mph); it was the fastest single-car run of the entire day. Elliott was second, followed by Joe Nemechek. Richardson, Yeley and Leicht were the three slowest drivers in the session.
Stenhouse Fastest in Nationwide First Practice; Keselowski Quickest in Sparsely Attended Happy Hour
For the Nationwide Series, it is a completely different style of racing. Tandem drafting is still the way to go in order to maintain any kind of speed on track. To that end, the pairs sprouted as soon as the track opened up.
The fastest of these pairs were Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who both turned in laps of 47.109 seconds (191.046 mph) to lead the session. Bowyer is a last-minute replacement for Joey Logano, who was shifted over to the No. 18 when Hamlin pulled out of the race. The Busch brothers (Kurt and Kyle) were third and fourth quickest, respectively, while JR Motorsports teammates Cole Whitt and Danica Patrick were fifth and sixth.
For those that have to qualify on speed Friday, the opening practice was a completely different story. Those teams concentrated on single-car runs. The fastest single-car run, however, was set by Brad Keselowski in the locked-in No. 22. His lap of 50.594 seconds (177.887 mph) was 19th quickest.
The fastest go-or-go-homer in single-car runs was the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet driven by Bobby Santos, III. Santos’ lap of 51.195 seconds (175.798 mph) was good enough for 24th quickest. Jeffrey Earnhardt, Jeff Green and Bryan Silas were the next three go-or-go-homers. Everyone except for Casey Roderick took time in the session.
The slowest drivers not locked-in were Joey Gase, Josh Wise and T.J. Bell. However, with the withdrawl of Morgan Shepherd Thursday morning, there are only 43 cars attempting the event and no one will fail to qualify.
The vast majority of the teams elected to skip the one hour Happy Hour session with only 15 drivers participating. Only the two Penske Racing teammates (Keselowski and Sam Hornish, Jr.) engaged in tandem drafting during the session. As a result, they turned in the two fastest times.
Jeffrey Earnhardt, Casey Roderick and Timmy Hill raced together in a single-file regular draft during the session. They had the third, fourth and fifth fastest laps of the session, two full seconds slower than the Penske duo. The remaining teams focused on single-car runs.
– Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s No. 6 Ford Mustang is running the blue, orange and carbon fiber colors of NoS Energy Drink this weekend in Daytona. Up until the end of last season, they had a long-term sponsorship with Kyle Busch. However, that ended when Kyle Busch Motorsports signed direct competitor Monster Energy to sponsor their new No. 54 Toyota in the Nationwide Series.
– BTS Tire & Service is on the No. 01 of Mike Wallace as an associate sponsor this week. In addition, the team is using RBR Motorsports’ (No. 92 team in the Camping World Truck Series) hauler this weekend.
– David Stremme’s Inception Motorsports Toyota has sponsorship on the hood from Stock Car Steel & Aluminum this week. Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 also has backing from AM/FM Energy and D.A.B. Constructors, longtime Florida-based sponsors for the team.