By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — The bottom groove was the preferred lane for both Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series competitors during Friday’s practice sessions at Texas Motor Speedway.
With the addition of the PJ1 traction compound, few attempted to run in the area, but it became apparent that come race day, whether or not the top groove will be utilized isn’t a topic worth ignoring.
“I’m not really sure that it changes a whole lot,” Kyle Busch on the track changes. “The track does look lighter in color, where the spray is not. It’s probably aged a fair bit in the summertime. The spray that’s there – once it’s activated – I’m sure it will be more grip, and people will move around.”
One thing was certain – the Ford camp, specifically Stewart-Haas Racing, have shown solid speed. In final practice, three out of the four drivers were among the five fastest guys with Aric Almirola clocking in at 28.638 seconds (188.561 mph).
Clint Bowyer, who was the fastest man overall with a time of 28.680 seconds (188.679 mph) during the first session, was third quickest. Kevin Harvick was fourth while Denny Hamlin wound up 22nd quickest, 0.281 seconds slower than Almirola.
Outside of SHR, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin were super consistent in both sessions as they ended up inside the top-five. Hamlin is a three-time winner, including the spring race where he led 45 of 334 laps.
William Byron was 11th fastest in Practice No. 1 and improved up to seventh the following session.
During media breakout, an optimistic Byron said the Toyota cars will still be a threat, especially the Joe Gibbs Racing camp.
“I think the first couple of runs weren’t quite as good as we wanted them to be, but once we kind of got the balance of our car a little better, I thought it was pretty good,” Byron’s thoughts on his opening practice session. “I think the Toyota’s and the Gibbs’ guys are really fast. It’s going to be pretty tough to compete with that, but I think we are in the ballpark I would say with where we have been on 1.5-mile tracks. I feel really optimistic.”
Other than that, it was a calm session except for Timmy Hill, who’s No. 66 Toyota Camry lost power and ended up resting just outside of pit road. This briefly halted the session as Hill failed to run a lap.
Turned out to be the second issue Hill had as in the Xfinity Series, Hill’s silver No. 13 Toyota Supra overshot the exiting lane and had to pull back in order to return to the garage area.
The biggest noteworthy moment of the day also occurred in Xfinity. During the closing minutes of the opening 50 minutes, Ryan Sieg plowed the backstretch wall nose first after his car lost control.
Sieg, who was seventh fastest, got out of his car and is okay but didn’t participate in the second session which was topped by Ross Chastain at 28.733 seconds (187.633 mph).
Round of 8 drivers weren’t far apart but the man the Xfinity field must beat is Christopher Bell (second in both sessions), who’s aiming to not only end his top-10 drought but punch his ticket to Homestead with a Texas triumph.
Fall winner Cole Custer wound up third and sixth fastest during the sessions. Tyler Reddick came out of the gate swinging after going quickest overall at 28.801 seconds (187.493 mph) and backed it up in the final session by going third fastest, 0.142 seconds off Chastain’s blistering time.
Single lap qualifying will occur Saturday with the Xfinity Series taking place at 4:35 pm CST. Followed by the Cup Series guys battling for the Busch Pole Award at 6:05 pm CST. Both sessions will air live on CNBC.