Friday, March 23, 2012

California Practice Notes: Hamlin Strong Again, Fastest in Both Saturday Sessions

By Micah Roberts

Hamlin is sick-quick at Fontana (Getty)
Saturday’s final Auto Club 400 practice session was a complete weather change from the day’s earlier session, but the same driver dominated the speed charts. Denny Hamlin, with a lap of 182.034 mph, was fastest once again.

Hamlin’s speed was 4 mph slower than when he had the top speed in the first session, the differences due to the sun shining from behind the clouds. But it’s clear that no matter what kind of weather presents itself on race day -- either Sunday or Monday -- Hamlin’s crew will be prepared better than most.

The only thing standing in Hamlin’s way will be his past history on the track which has seen him finish at a 19.2 average with his only top-5 coming in 2008.

Coming in with the second fastest lap was Vallejo native Jeff Gordon at 181.132 mph. The three-time California winner had appeared to struggle with the clouds out in the previous session, but the team was able show fast consistent laps under the sunlight.

Clint Bowyer has the fourth fastest speed (181.132) with Jamie McMurray (181.132) and Kyle Busch (181.050) not far behind.

It’s no surprise to see El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson high on the charts with the sixth fastest lap since he’s the track’s all-time leader in just about everything. Not only did the five-time winner get his first career Cup win at California, but he also has finished third or better in eight of his last nine starts.

Another California kid, Kevin Harvick, continued his recent mastery of a track that initially gave him troubles. Harvick, who won this race last year and was runner-up the year prior, finished with the seventh fastest lap.

Matt Kenseth was eight fastest followed by Martin Truex Jr and Tony Stewart. Mark Martin had the 11th fastest lap and tied Jimmie Johnson with the most laps run during the session (47).

Kasey Kahne had the 14th fastest lap, but paced the day with the fastest average speeds, even though he ran 9 less laps than Hamlin who was second best.

Hamlin was also fastest in 10-consecutive average lap speeds followed by Kenseth, Busch, McMurray and Johnson.

Should be an interesting race whatever day the green flag eventually drops.

Top-5 Practice 3 Speeds:
1) Denny Hamlin 182.034 mph (35 laps for 176.923 average)
2) Jeff Gordon 181.360 (31 laps for 176.689 average)
3) Clint Bowyer 181.214 (37 laps for 176.805 average)
4) Jamie McMurray 181.132 (34 laps for 176.114 average)
5) Kyle Busch 181.050 (34 laps for 176.357 average)

Practice 3 Speeds - 10 lap Averages

Hamlin Dominates Second Practice Session

Hamlin has 19.2 average finish at Cali in 11 starts (Getty)
One day after capturing the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at California Speedway, Denny Hamlin laid down the fastest lap (186.018 mph) in race trim during Saturday’s first practice session. The speed was almost a full mph faster than Clint Bowyer had in Friday’s practice while in qualifying trim and fell just short of matching Hamlin’s top qualifying speed.

The reason for such fast speeds was because temperatures were in the high 50’s on an overcast foggy day. Some precipitation is expected today putting the final practice in jeopardy. Sunday’s race is also in jeopardy because there is an 80% chance of rain from noon to 9pm (PDT).

With the chance of rain being imminent, teams had to cram everything they could into this session because of the possibility that no final practice will be held.

Matt Kenseth, using a chassis the finished fourth at Texas last fall, ran the second fastest lap (185.209) and looks in great shape to possibly capture his fourth Fontana win.

The Stewart-Haas duo of Ryan Newman (184.928) and Tony Stewart (184.554) finished third and fourth fastest respectively with Kevin Harvick coming in with the fifth fastest speed (184.270 mph).

Most of the top speeds on the day were obtained at the beginning of the one-hour session with the coolest temperatures. Of the best 10 consecutive average laps run, the top-7 speeds all did so from lap 1-10 with Hamlin leading the way in that category as well, followed by Newman, Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards.

For Edwards, his strong day has to be a sigh of relief after struggling the last three weeks in practice. Along with the good average speeds, Edwards also had the eighth fastest single lap (183.636) using a car that finished second at Phoenix last fall.

Most of the cars that were supposed to be fast, were fast. However, with the chance that this race could run Monday (rain expected too) or Tuesday, the data obtained today won't rate in like-instances just because it won't be as cool.

Top-5 Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Denny Hamlin 186.018
2) Matt Kenseth 185.209
3) Ryan Newman 184.928
4) Tony Stewart 184.554
5) Kevin Havick 184.270

Note: Brad Keselowski radioed to his team after practice that his car is the best it's ever been at Fontana. In his three starts, he's finished 21st, 26th and 26th. However, he did have the seventh fastest single lap and also made the same claim last week before winning at Bristol.

Practice 2 Speeds - 10 Lap Averages

MWR's Bowyer and Martin Fastest in First Practice Session

Bowyer fastest in first practice (Getty)
Clint Bowyer jumped out early with the fastest lap of the first Auto Club 400 practice session at California Speedway in his first attempt. The lap of 185.109 mph was enough to hold on to the top speed despite another 85 minutes of practice from all the other drivers. 19 of the 46 drivers attempting to qualify this weekend followed suit with their fastest lap of the day coming in their first attempt.

The strategy for most teams was to get out early in qualifying trim before the track heated up in hopes of getting the top speed which designates when drivers will qualify today. The better their practice, the later they get to qualify and take advantage of a cooler surface in the late afternoon.

Michael Waltrip Racing’s fast cars weren’t limited to just Bowyer. Fresh off having all three of their cars finish in the top-5 at Bristol last week, they had the top two speeds in practice with Mark Martin laying down the second fastest lap of 184.322 mph at almost the same juncture Bowyer had his fastest lap. Martin Truex Jr finished with the 18th fastest lap.

Kasey Kahne was the lone exception among drivers in the top-6 who captured their fastest lap right out of the gate. Kahne had the third fastest speed (183.946), but did it on the last of his 16 laps run on the day. Following Kahne was Brad Kieslowski (183.290), Denny Hamlin (183.187) and Jeff Burton (183.169).

No driver ran 10 consecutive laps or more during the session as they will look to maximize their race set-ups in Saturday’s final two sessions. Friday’s qualifying is set to begin at 4:10 pm (PDT).

Top-5 Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Clint Bowyer 185.109
2) Mark Martin 184.322
3) Kasey Kahne 183.946
4) Brad Keselowski 183.290
5) Denny Hamlin 183.187

Practice 1 Speeds

Starting Lineup

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