Larson tops lone Friday practice session, Johnson wrecks
Ganassi Racing was the class of the field in first practice at Auto Club Speedway.
Kyle Larson posted the fastest single-lap speed — 189.071mph in his 14th lap.
Although he was comfortable in race trim early in the session, Larson really dug the speed in qualifying trim.
“We went to qualifying trim and we were really fast,” Larson said. “Hopefully we can make a couple of adjustments on the Target Chevy and improve in qualifying.
“This is a real fun racetrack. I always look forward to coming here.”
Larson’s speed was 0.123-seconds quicker than Denny Hamlin. Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five single laps speeds, followed by Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.
Only the Ganassi Chevrolets participated in the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average category. Larson topped McMurray with a lap of 182.404mph.
NASCAR called a caution at the 16-minute mark after a car hit an owl on the front stretch entering Turn 1. A safety truck drove over to the bird and it flew up the track. After track workers chased the owl for about six minutes, practice continued.
Blaney led the session at the time of the red-flag with a lap of 187.471mph. Martin Truex Jr. was second followed by Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Kenseth, Austin Dillon, Logano, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne.
“Our first couple of laps were fast,” Blaney said. As for his experience on the West Coast? “It’s been a good time but it’s nice to get back to work, back to get back home, too.”
The only addition to the top 10 speeds after 40 minutes was Chase Elliott, who jumped up to fourth in single-lap runs after completing two laps.
Once the teams turned over to qualifying trim — just prior to the 45-minute mark — Jamie McMurray jumped to the top of the speed chart. with a lap of 187.940. Denny Hamlin was the next driver to bump Blaney with a single-lap speed of 187.627mph.
Fifty-minutes into the 85-minute session, points leader Kyle Larson vaulted to the top of the board with a lap of 189.071mph.
Moments later, Jimmie Johnson spun coming out of Turns 3 and 4 and ended up in the grass to trigger the second caution of the session. He had completed just four laps in the No. 48 Chevy and was 17th on the speed chart with a lap of 185.639mph prior to the accident.
“We just showed up at the track swinging hard and trying to get all that we can” Johnson said. "I crossed the line there, for sure, and the car came around on me. But, we’ve got another great Lowe's Chevrolet coming out. I thought we might be able to stick with this one, but that was too much on the front of the race car. It’s not the way we wanted to start the weekend. But, the only way we're going to get better without testing is just to keep trying harder in practice and swing harder. We know we got the race-side in a respectable spot but just need to start better on Fridays.”
The No. 48 team unloaded the backup car, but Johnson was unable to put a lap on it before the end of first practice.
The track returned to green with 25-minutes remaining in practice. Joey Logano moved up to fourth-quick with a lap of 187.588mph. Kevin Harvick moved to second-fast 72 minutes in with a lap of 188.344. Hamlin bumped him seconds later with a lap of 188.462mph.
NASCAR held 11 cars for 15-minutes at the start of practice for being late to inspection last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Trevor Bayne, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, AJ Allmendinger, Timmy Hill, Derrike Cope, Corey LaJoie and Michael McDowell were held at the start of the session. Erik Jones and Matt DiBenedetto missed the first 30 minutes of practice for being late to both qualifying and race inspection.
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