Jimmie Johnson returned to a familiar position on Friday—the front of the NASCAR Cup Series field.
With a lap at 194.225 mph, Johnson led a group of four Chevrolet drivers who posted the fastest speeds in opening practice for the DAYTONA 500.
Chase Elliott, the seven-time champion’s former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, was second fastest at 194.195 mph, followed by JTG-Daugherty’s Ricky Stenhouse and pole winner Alex Bowman.
Johnson, who has no competitive experience in NASCAR’s Next Gen car, proved he’s a quick study. He returns to Cup racing as an owner/driver in the No. 84 Chevrolet at Legacy Motor Club after a two-year absence during which he raced IndyCars.
“It’s my first weekend in this car,” said Johnson, a two-time DAYTONA 500 winner. “It’s (crew chief) Todd (Gordon’s) first weekend working on the Next Gen car and the first time we’ve all worked together. So we’re going through quality reps right now.
“It’s just so fun to get out there and mix it up. I was in a great draft with Chase and understanding the bump-drafting aspect of where this car is and got some quality reps there, too.”
Led by Aric Almirola, Ford drivers claimed the next eight fastest positions in practice. The quickest Toyota driver was Martin Truex Jr. in 17th.
At 5:33 p.m., Kyle Larson led a parade of Chevrolets to pit road. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion jumped to the top of the speed chart on his second lap, touring the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 46.664 seconds at 192.868 mph.
That lap in the draft was more than 11 mph faster than Bowman’s pole-winning speed of 181.686 mph during single-car qualifying runs on Wednesday night.
With 34 minutes left in the 50-minute session, Ford drivers Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano surpassed Larson’s speed, soon to be joined by Almirola, who posted the fastest speed of the session that that point at 194.107 mph (46.366 seconds).
In a backup car, thanks to a wreck while leading Thursday’s second Duel, Kyle Busch started his practice session in an interesting group that included teammate Austin Dillon and Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, the latter of whom had sent Busch spinning out of control in the qualifying race.
Busch turned 15 laps in practice, with a high speed of 190.234 mph, before taking his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the garage.
“It’s good,” Busch said of the backup. “It’s really hard to tell the speed, obviously, just being out there with three other cars. You want to be in a bigger pack… I’m really proud of the guys, proud that it feels good, and we’ll get ‘em on Sunday.”
With 11 minutes left, a large pack of Chevrolets led by Johnson drafted back to the top of the chart. With Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bowman close behind, Camaros claimed the top four spots and remained there through the end of the session.
Myatt Snider paces opening Xfinity Series practice
Midway through opening—and final—NASCAR Xfinity Series practice on Friday afternoon, Myatt Snider hooked onto the draft of four JR Motorsports teammates and posted the fastest lap of the session at 187.636 mph as the first and only driver to break the 48-second barrier (47.965).
Sporting Hendrick Motorsports engines, JR Motorsports drivers Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier tied for second fastest at 187.429 mph, followed by teammates Sam Mayer and Josh Berry.
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