Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Jimmie Johnson Fastest in Eventful First Cup Series Practice at Charlotte

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – A year after coming agonizingly close to winning at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Jimmie Johnson got the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend started on the right foot Friday by posting the fastest time in first practice with a lap of 1 minute, 20.968 seconds.

Kyle Larson was second on the leaderboard, followed by William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Preece, and defending race winner Ryan Blaney.

Outside of the top-10, Playoff drivers finished the session 13th (Kyle Busch), 14th (Brad Keselowski), 15th (Joey Logano), 17th (Alex Bowman), 18th (Kurt Busch), 19th (Aric Almirola), 21st (Martin Truex, Jr.), 22nd (Kevin Harvick), 25th (Denny Hamlin), and 28th (Ryan Newman).

Just as we saw a year ago, the first laps the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series got on the 2.32-mile, 18-turn road course came with some headaches for the competitors.

Parker Kligerman was the first to run into trouble, impacting the Turn 1 wall in the opening minutes. The damage to his No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota was severe enough to force him to a backup car for the remainder of the weekend.

Though Kligerman was the first to have issues on the Roval, he certainly wasn’t the last.

Denny Hamlin lost control in the infield section of the track, spinning off course and into the tire barrier off Turn 5. Hamlin collected one of the advertising banners lining the track and carried it with him back to pit road where the team took a look at the damage and elected to move to a backup car as well.

“I got loose,” Hamlin said. “Kind of building up speed there, but I was pretty free on all the corners previous. Got through (Turns) 3 and 4 significantly better than the previous laps and carried that extra speed into Turn 5 and it just wouldn’t take it.

“It’s supposed to be kind of a weekend off for these guys, but obviously, we put them behind the eight-ball here and took away from some track time for myself. Really stinks, but you know, definitely feel like our backup car will be fine and we’ll have a good race on Sunday.”

Joe Nemechek was the next to have problems as he carried too much speed into the backstretch chicane, striking the blue curbs on the inside of the turn and launching his No. 27 Chevrolet into the air momentarily with all four wheels off the ground. Upon landing, Nemechek was able to get his car stopped before contacting the inside wall.

Last, but not least was Bubba Wallace, who had his off-track excursion with less than three minutes remaining in the session. Just like Hamlin, Wallace’s problems came in the infield section of the course, but he was able to keep from causing major damage to his car, lightly contacting the wall after looping the car around.

Medical Issue Sidelines McDowell for Practice, Austin Cindric Substitutes

Before first practice got underway, activity was picking up in the garage area around the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford as primary driver Michael McDowell was suffering from abdominal pain and eventually was taken to the hospital after being checked out at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Infield Care Center.

Austin Cindric, who normally drives for Team Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, was called upon to substitute for McDowell in practice while the team assessed its plans for the remainder of the day pending on how things went with McDowell at the hospital.

After Cindric posted the 24th fastest time in practice, FRM announced on social media that McDowell had been released from the hospital and would be returning to the car when qualifying commences at 4:40 pm Eastern.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.