By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – The opening day of on-track activity at Talladega Superspeedway was all about practice, with both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolling out for a pair of 50-minute practices for both series.
Austin Hill, Harrison Burton Lead Toyota Truck Series Practice Sweep
While the first half of the opening Truck Series practice featured single car runs and a few drivers teaming up in tandems, business really picked up in the latter half of practice as multiple drivers formed up and created a pack, with that type of racing dominating through to the end of the session.
When all was said and done, Austin Hill, driving the same truck he won with at Daytona, found himself at the top of the heap in first practice, with a lap of 49.587 seconds (193.115 mph).
“We were pretty good,” Hill said. “Our plan to draft with the KBM guys and stuff kind of didn’t pan out the way we were anticipating, but we unloaded with a mock run. Thought it was decent. We saw some other guys that ran like two or three laps in their mock run. We only ran one, so we think that we’re close. Not really sure on that aspect of it. It drove good. That’s kind of all you can ask for at this type of race track.
“We got in the draft with a couple of the Chevrolets. I was out there with the 24 (Moffitt) and the 52 (Friesen). Guys that we feel like are going to be pretty good come tomorrow. We were able to suck up right up to them really good. We laid down a really good lap in practice and you know, I just think it gives my guys that much more confidence and momentum going into tomorrow.”
Clay Greenfield timed in second in his No. 68 entry, followed by Timothy Peters, Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed, Austin Wayne Self, Stewart Friesen, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Dippel, and Gus Dean rounding out the top-10.
The remaining Playoff drivers: Matt Crafton, Tyler Ankrum, and Ross Chastain finished the first practice session 13th, 20th, and 22nd, respectively.
Following a break of a little more than two hours, the Trucks hit the track for a rather uneventful final practice. While there were some group runs, trucks started retreating to the garage one by one before there were only a few trucks out on track at a time.
When the red and black flags flew to signal the end of practice, Harrison Burton and his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota was at the top of the board at 50.646 seconds, 189.077 mph. Burton’s KBM teammate Todd Gilliland was second.
Tyler Ankrum, Riley Herbst, Codie Rohrbaugh, Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen, Sheldon Creed, Johnny Sauter, and Korbin Forrister completed the top-10.
The Truck Series will set the field for the Sugarlands Shine 250 with qualifying at 10:35 am ET Saturday. Their 94-lap race, which kicks off the Round of 6 in the Truck Playoffs is scheduled for 1:30 pm ET.
Cup Series Practices See Speeds Top 204 mph, with Hamlin and Bowyer Leading the Way
Reminiscent of the spring race at Talladega, practice speeds in both the first and final practice sessions saw speeds jump past the 204-mph threshold.
When all was said and done in first practice, Denny Hamlin was the fastest at 204.904 mph, with fellow Playoff drivers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch slotting in second and third, respectively. The fast speed for Busch was a turnaround from the early moments of practice when his team was left scrambling trying to diagnose an unknown mechanical issue.
Following the three Playoff drivers, Corey Lajoie was fourth in his Go Fas Racing Ford, with Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Brendan Gaughan, Chris Buescher, and Matt DiBenedetto rounding out the top-10.
Much like the Truck Series, final Cup Series practice didn’t see much pack racing past the early minutes of the session, with a Ford foursome comprised of Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Matt Crafton (subbing for Paul Menard), and Kevin Harvick claiming the top spots on the leaderboard. Bowyer topped them all with a lap of 47.396 seconds, 202.042 mph. Ryan Preece rounded out the top-five.
Though Bowyer comes in four points below the cut line, he noted that he is excited for the weekend ahead at Talladega – a place where he has had success in the past, but has also been involved in the notorious “Big One.”
“This weekend everybody keeps asking and calling me, ‘Hey, man. What do you think about this weekend?’ Sponsors and all I’m like, ‘Honestly, I’m looking forward to it.’ I like this. I like being able to go to a race and have it figured out one way or the other,” Bowyer said.
“Everybody is freaking out over this race because it’s worthy of that. It’s all on the line here this weekend. We’ve seen it time and time again. When you’re under this set of circumstances in the Playoffs, whether it was the old format, the Chase format or this three races and you’re out deal, this is a pivotal race.
“Anytime you’re gonna put a restrictor plate race, it’s a 50-50 deal. I tell everybody all the time we’ve got about a 50 percent chance of winning or flipping 17 times. I mean, it’s just one or the other, but at least I’ll know when I wake up Monday morning. Even if it goes down and you end up on the back side of that, I was talking and wrecked out, you still get up and work your ass off Monday morning and all week long to prepare to go after it because you never know what’s gonna happen at a track like Kansas either. You’ve always got to stay focused on the task at hand. I like this time of year.”
Next up for the Cup Series is 1000Bulbs.com 500 qualifying at 4:35 pm ET Saturday, followed by the 188-lap race at 2:00 pm ET Sunday.