With just under 10 minutes remaining in Sprint Cup Series opening practice at Bristol, Denny Hamlin laid down a lap at 128.666 mph, shooting him to the top of the speed chart.
At a track that is a half-mile in length, Hamlin’s time lap time was 14.913 seconds. The top four all posted laps under 15 seconds as practice dwindled to a close.
In the last five races at Bristol, the No. 11 car has sat on the pole three times, including the night race last August, the last time NASCAR visited the world’s fastest half-mile.
After dominating last week in Texas, Martin Truex, Jr. was second fasest on the leader board at 128.399 mph, .031 seconds behind Hamlin.
Two-time Bristol winner, Brad Keselowski was third on the chart at 128.374. Jimmie Johnson posted a lap at 128.176 mph. and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five at 127.767 mph.
With qualifying being so important at Bristol, the first 17 cars were within two-tenths of a second of the top time. Notable drivers under that mark was August winner Joey Logano in 19th and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who has two career top five finishes at this track in 26th.
Casey Mears was the fastest of the drivers who made a 10 lap run as well as running 43 laps, the most of all drivers in the hour-and-a-half session.
Qualifying will get underway at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Matt Kenseth is the defending pole-sitter and winner of the spring race in Bristol.
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.
In what was one of the weirdest ranges of weather sequences in NASCAR history, Brad Keselowski left the field in the dust on his way to Victory Lane, picking up his first win of the season and 18th of his career.
With five laps to go in the Kobalt 400 on Sunday, Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch in what was the eventual race winning pass. This is his second triumph in Las Vegas in the last three years.
The No. 2 car was running third throughout the last stint of the race, but with roughly 10 laps to go was closing in on the lead and after passing his teammate Joey Logano then able to chase down Busch.
“This rules package, I love it,” Keselowski said. “You can be really fast at the start of the run or really fast at the end of the run and we had awesome speed at the end of every run. It seemed like we could just never put it all together with the way the cautions kept falling. At the end we got that big long run and couldn’t get going for the first few laps.”
Keselowski’s victory didn’t come without adversity. He was caught speeding on pit road with 90 laps to go. But after a caution with 53 laps to go, the No. 2 team stayed out when others decided to pit. He was able to go the distance on fuel and solidify himself into the 2016 edition of the Chase.
Logano came home second after a last lap pass on Busch. Leading 75 laps, the No. 22 team picked up its first top-five finish of the young season. However, he insisted that again, it is disappointing finishing second after so many second-place finishes in Daytona.
Atlanta winner, Jimmie Johnson came home third after also passing Busch on the final lap. The No. 48 car was out front for 76 circuits, the most of all drivers.
Dominating the middle potion of the race was what the six-time champion did. But after getting off-sequence with the rest of the field he needed to overcome other teams that took two tires when he took four.
The aforementioned Busch finished fourth at his home racetrack. On a restart with 44 laps to go the No. 18 car restarted sixth and by Turn 3 of that lap had made his way to the lead for the first time on the afternoon.
He led the remainder of the race until five laps to go when Keselowski passed him. He believed that it was a vibration that kept him out of the winner circle.
“Huge vibration,” Busch said as to why he lost the race. “I had a vibration when we put the rights on and it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. At the end I didn’t know if a tire was coming apart or what the deal was. I was giving it everything I had.”
Austin Dillon bounced back from a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 147 to a top-five finish. At one point of the race the No. 3 car was two laps down, after running in the top 10 all race long. On the same caution that Keselowski and Logano stayed out, so did Dillon for track position. This is his third career top-five finish.
Ryan Blaney was the highest finishing rookie on Sunday, finishing in sixth. Spending much of the day inside of the top 10, he needed to miss a wreck late in the race to come back to sixth.
That wreck with 43 laps to go came when one of the pre-race favorites Matt Kenseth slid up the track after getting loose where Chase Elliott rear-ended the No. 20 machine. Also caught up in the wreck were Carl Edwards and pole-sitter Kurt Busch.
Kenseth’s bad luck to start the season continued while getting caught up in that incident. After losing the Daytona 500 on the final lap, a pit road penalty in Atlanta, he was desperate for a good finish in Sin City. While leading nine laps, a 37th-place effort doesn’t help his causes.
The pole-sitter came back to finish in ninth. Outside of the No. 18 team, Joe Gibbs Racing struggled with Edwards in 18th the second-highest finisher out of that Toyota camp, Denny Hamlin was just behind in 19th.
Kevin Harvick finished seventh and he extended his consecutive top 10 streak to start the season. He is one of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races, the other being 2015 champion Busch.
Next Sunday the Cup Series heads to Phoenix in the second of three west coast races. Harvick is the defending winner of the spring race and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the fall event in the desert.
Kurt Busch looking for first win at hometown track.
After winning the pole on Friday at a speed of 196.328 mph, Busch has had one of the fastest cars all weekend long in Sin City. He has never won at his hometown track, posting a best finish of third in 2005 while driving for Roush Fenway Racing.
The No. 41 car has been no lower than 10th on the speed chart all weekend long, that coming on Saturday in the morning practice.
Team Penske rebounding from last weekend.
Atlanta was a disappointing weekend for Team Penske. Though Brad Keselowski came home with a top-10 finish, the team struggled throughout the weekend. Joey Logano started 26th and failed to record a top 10 after a late race commitment cone penalty.
That race was the first with the new aerodynamic package. This weekend the two teammates have been atop or near the top of the leader board. The No. 2 car was fastest in opening practice on Friday with the No. 22 team in second. They qualified inside of the top five. But on Saturday the team struggled with only Keselowski inside of the top 10 on speed.
Kevin Harvick battling the flu.
The defending winner of this race has been sick all weekend long, thus causing the team to work harder than normal. It took Harvick three tries to advance out of the first round of qualifying. The car just kept getting faster, resulting in a sixth-place effort.
In the practices on Saturday Harvick was mired with 22nd best time. Can he go back-to-back in Sin City and start the West Coast swing with a bang?
Carl Edwards coming from the back.
The two-time Vegas winner crashed on Friday in the second round of qualifying. However, on Saturday the team rebounded, placing the car in first and second resptively in the two practice sessions. After struggling in the test session on Thursday and practice on Friday, Joe Gibbs Racing looks to be a threat for the win today. Matt Kenseth was fastest in Happy Hour.
Green flag racing.
In the first race with the new aerodynamic package at Atlanta, the first 210 laps stayed green. There was only one caution in the race until three laps to go when Ryan Newman cut a tire. In the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish there was pileup on the backstretch.
Normally, this race runs green for quite a while. The fewest number of cautions in a single race was two in 1998 and 2000. The most were in 2009 with 14. Just two years ago, won by Keselowski was the fastest race in track history at 154.633 mph.