By David Morgan, Associate Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Under bright blue skies in East Tennessee, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series got its first look at Bristol Motor Speedway ahead of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
After what was a mostly one groove race in Thursday night’s Truck Series race at the track, it was much of the same in first practice on Friday. Erik Jones, who led both Xfinity Series practices on Thursday, was once again at the top of the board in the first of two Cup Series practices before being bested by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the final minutes.
Hamlin led the way with a lap at 14.920 seconds, 128.605 mph, with Jones, Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr., Alex Bowman, and Kyle Larson rounding out the top-10.
Following an hour-long break, the Cup Series was back on track for final practice. Unlike the first practice, the second groove started to come in somewhat during the hour-long session, giving drivers options on where to run, depending on how their cars were handling.
When all was said and done, Matt DiBenedetto, who announced Thursday that he would not be returning to Leavine Family Racing in 2020, found himself at the top of the board with a lap of 14.892 seconds, 128.848 mph.
Blaney timed in second during the session, but a little more than 40 minutes in, his No. 12 Ford suffered a mechanical problem, leaving fluid on track and a trail of smoke following behind.
“Blew the power steering pump,” Blaney said. “Blew the guts out of it. It happened right in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4, right where you’re fully kind of turned left. When it blows out like that, it was an instant kind of snap and I’m not sure what it did to my shoulder, but I just needed a second.
“That stinks, but good thing we didn’t hit the wall or nothing and that’s something we can replace.”
The remainder of the top-10 in practice went to Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Bowman, Larson, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Truex, Austin Dillon, and Ryan Newman.
With practice complete, qualifying is next on the docket for the Cup Series with the single car session kicking off at 5:45 pm Eastern on NBC Sports Network. Sunday’s 500 lap race is scheduled for 7:30 pm Eastern, also on NBCSN.