Joe Gibbs Racing Sweeps Practice Sessions in Fontana
In the two practice sessions on Saturday in preparation for the Auto Club 400 on Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing looked to be the team to beat. In each of the two one-hour sessions, it was a JGR Toyota who set down a fast lap in the opening minutes that would not be beat.
Over the span of the two hours there were three separate incidents that would send two teams to backup cars.
Carl Edwards paced the opening hour of practice at 187.906 mph. After qualifying fifth on Friday, the driver of the No. 19 car is looking to return to Victory Lane in Southern California for the first time since 2008.
He was just ahead of another Toyota, Martin Truex, Jr. with Furniture Row Racing. The No. 78 team welcomed back crew chief, Cole Pearn, following his one-race suspension last week in Phoenix. He put down a lap at 187.632 mph.
Third quick was Ryan Newman at 186.640 mph, more than two-tenths of a second off the fast time. Kyle Busch was fourth and pole-sitter Austin Dillon rounded out the top five at 186.587 mph.
Just outside of the top five was Paul Menard in sixth, making all three Richard Childress Racing cars inside of the top six. The top rookie was Brian Scott in seventh. Two winners so far this season were mired down below 20th, Denny Hamlin 23rd and defending winner Brad Keselowski was just 24th fastest in the morning session.
The first incident of the day came when Aric Almirola slid into the wall off Turn 2, causing significant cosmetic damage. The team would repair the car and return to the track in the second session. The No. 43 car was 19th fastest.
The latter incident came when Kurt Busch pounded the wall right where Almirola did 20 minutes prior. The No. 41 car was not as lucky as the Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup car, something that Busch appreciated because he was not happy with his primary car on Saturday morning.
In the first two minutes of Happy Hour, Matt Kenseth recorded a lap at 185.419 mph. This practice was in race condition as the Sprint Cup race on Sunday will start at the time that this practice ended.
After being quickest in the first practice, Edwards was second fast, .015 seconds behind his JGR teammate. The No. 19 car was also one of the best on the long runs as were all of the Toyota teams. Toyota is looking for its third win in the last four races at the Auto Club Speedway, which is the backyard of TRD's headquarters.
A trio of Fords filled the next three speeds, led by rookie Ryan Blaney at 185.161 mph. Joey Logano was fourth quickest and Almirola rounded out the top five after getting his car back on track following the incident in the opening session.
Dillon finished the session the lowest he's been all week in sixth, just under a tenth of a second behind Kenseth. Keselowski made improvements to his car and finish Happy Hour 12th.
While the one-lap speed didn't show it, Kevin Harvick had the fastest car on the long run. He was only 27th on the speed chart, but had very little fall off in his tires compared to other teams. The California native is a two-time winner at his home track, the last win coming in 2011 with RCR.
The biggest incident of the day came 32 minutes into final practice when Kyle Larson got loose getting into Turn 4, by the time he could correct it Greg Biffle drilled him in the rear and the tandem spun to the infield. The No. 16 car was on fresh tires, going approximately 20 mph faster than the No. 42 car at the time.
Larson would go to a backup car with a ton of cosmetic damage to the right rear of the car, while it looks like Biffle will remain in his primary car on Sunday. Before the incident the No. 42 team had the 26th fastest time, while the No. 16 team had the 15th fastest lap.
The green flag will drop at 3:30 p.m. Sunday to start the Auto Club 400 where another driver will look to clinch their birth into the Chase.
Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015.