Austin Dillon tops opening practice session in California

Austin Dillon’s performance continues to improve — and his practice session at Auto Club Speedway was no different.

Austin Dillon tops opening practice session in California
Ty Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

In qualifying trim, Dillon shot to the top of the speed chart with a lap of 188.511 mph (38.194-seconds). 

“Working on my line, seeing what we have as team,” Dillon said. “Looking forward to qualifying this afternoon.

“You never give up, you keep wanting a little bit more and try to do the best you can.”

Martin Truex Jr. was second quick with a lap of 188.432 mph in single lap runs.

Jimmie Johnson embodied the Superman persona from this week’s sponsor as he set the pace in first practice during his first lap on Friday.

Johnson posted a lap of 187.573 mph around the 2-mile track, but 13 minutes into the session, another local favorite, Kevin Harvick, topped the speed chart with a lap of 188.304 mph. Harvick’s lap held up for third fastest of the session. Harvick, coming off of last weekend’s win at Phoenix International Raceway, was the first driver to break the current track qualifying record of 188.245mph set by Kyle Busch on February 27, 2005.

Harvick, who won this race in 2011, believes the new low downforce package combined with a high rate of speed will force drivers to throttle back a bit.

“Oh you are going to have to lift a lot,” Harvick said. “You are probably going to have three-seconds of fall off, maybe more, as you go through the run because the tires just fall off so fast.  You are going to have a lot of straightaway speed because of the low drag, so yeah, there is definitely going to be a lot of off throttle time.  

“I think the amount of time is going to change dramatically from the first lap to lap 30.  It’s going to be a huge pace swing.” 

The Fords of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (188.289 mph) and rookie Chris Buescher (187.823 mph) rounded out the top-five in the first session followed by Kasey Kahne (187.700 mph), Johnson, Casey Mears (187.505 mph), rookie Ryan Blaney (187.495 mph), AJ Allmendinger (187.451 mph)  and former Fontana winner Greg Biffle (187.378 mph).

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is donning a Batman scheme in competition to Johnson’s Superman colors, struggled early in the session when a steering bearing seized up. After multiple adjustments — and five laps later — Earnhardt moved up to 12th-quick (187.281 mph)

Earnhardt acknowledged, “That was way better. Just a little tight getting into (turn) 3, good drive off…I can work on that. One and two had great balance.” 

NASCAR paused the practice just past halfway to clean debris off the track in Turns 1 and 2, but continued to the session to make up for lost time. 

Allmendinger’s 19 laps were the most completed during the session. With the emphasis on qualifying setup, no drivers made a 10-lap consecutive run. 

Complete session results

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