By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR celebrated the Independence Day holiday the only way it knew how on Thursday, by taking to the track at Daytona International Speedway for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice and the fireworks certainly started early.
The first of two sessions were entertaining and full of action, with drivers running two and three-wide in an effort to feel out the package that makes its debut at Daytona after receiving rave reviews at Talladega a few months back.
Though the typical Florida afternoon thunderstorms hit with 14 minutes remaining in the session, bringing practice to an early end, the results bode well for an enjoyable night of racing on Saturday when the green flag flies.
Ty Dillon led the way for most of the session, but before the thunderstorms struck, Kyle Busch powered his way to the top of the scoring pylon with a lap of 44.831 seconds, 200.754 mph. Dillon dropped to second in the final rundown.
The remainder of the top-10 went to Chris Buescher, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Daniel Hemric, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, and Chase Elliott.
Storms around the track got nearly everyone out for final practice, with single car runs evolving into pack runs, which led to inevitable run-ins on the track.
Those run-ins came when William Byron spun after contact with Brad Keselowski late in the session. Though it could have ended much worse, Byron’s spin only involved one car as he was able to save it with damage to both the front end and the rear of the car where he and Keselowski collided.
Both Byron and Keselowski were involved in a crash in this race last year and Byron noted that Thursday’s spin may have been Keselowski trying to send him a message. Though the team tried to salvage the car, they eventually elected to go to a backup car.
“I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault,” Keselowski said last July. “I know better than that. I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that.”
After their incident Thursday, Keselowski indicated he was indeed giving notice to the field of his intentions Saturday night.
“I was in a position where I had to lift and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting,” Keselowski noted. “I hate it for his team and that they’ve got to work on their car, but I’m just trying to send a message that I’m not lifting.
“I’m tired of getting wrecked at the plate tracks. I’ve been wrecked there four of the last five races. Quite honestly, because I let people pull moves like that on me. They’re all watching. They know.”
Martin Truex, Jr. posted the fastest time of the session at 43.703 seconds, 205.936 mph. Fellow Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, and Matt DiBenedetto followed Truex on the time sheet, with Matt Tifft rounding out the top-five in his Ford.
Along with Parker Kligerman in sixth, the top-six cars all posted laps faster than 205 mph.