Friday, March 2, 2012

Phoenix Practice Times: MWR's Truex Jr and Bowyer Fastest, But Kahne Looks Strongest Overall

By Micah Roberts

Kahne had the best 10 consecutive lap average in final practice (Getty)
Martin Truex Jr led the way with the fastest lap during the final practice session Friday in preparation for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. With less than a minute to go in the session Truex Jr passed the top time his MWR teammate, Clint Bowyer, had just set five minutes earlier with a top speed of 139.481 mph.

Truex Jr’s speed was the fastest of both 90 minute sessions on a day the drivers had to battle with 30 mph winds. In the first practice session, Tony Stewart led the way at 138.680 mph. In both practices, the fastest times came from those in a mock qualifying trim. It was thought that the final practice session may have been used primarily for race set-up, but with about 35 minutes to go several cars changed over into their qualifying trim for the second time between Friday’s two sessions.

The driver who stood out in both race and qualifying trim was Jimmie Johnson who ran a session high 62 laps. Despite all the laps run, Johnson still managed to average 135.001 mph, something only 12 other drivers were able to do while driving considerably less laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr stood out in race trim early on along with Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard and Greg Biffle.

That’s all the practice we get for the weekend. It’s a bunch of jumbled times with little indication of who really is fast in race conditions. The best way to dissect what happened today to get a read on who will be fast Sunday and who is just fast in qualifying trim is looking at the average speeds and, in particular, best 10 consecutive lap average. Kahne led the way in that category followed by Johnson, Stewart, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin.

Qualifying for Sunday’s race begins Saturday at 2:35 pm (ET).

Here’s a look at the Top-5 Practice speeds from the final session:

1. Martin Truex Jr 139.481 mph (37 laps for 135.486 average speed)
2. Clint Bowyer 139.227 mph (27 laps for 135.075 average)
3. Juan Pablo Montoya 139.002 mph (37 laps for 135.610 average)
4. Kurt Busch 138.841 mph (35 laps for 135.219 average)
5. Jeff Gordon 138.244 mph (59 laps for 134.962 average)

Matt Kenseth had to go to a back-up after slapping the wall early in the session. Joe Nemechek and David Gilliland also banged the wall, but no word on whether they had to go to a back-up (as if it really matters).

Phoenix Practice 2 Results

Stewart Fastest in First Practice Session

Stewart fast in qualifying trim, but not as good in race set-up (Getty)
Tony Stewart had the fastest lap in Friday’s first practice session at Phoenix International Raceway in preparation for Sunday‘s Subway Fresh Fit 500. Stewart topped the charts with two minutes remaining in the 90 minute session while in qualifying trim.

The first practice was basically split up into two sessions by the teams. The first half was used by most teams in race trim while the second half was mostly short runs in qualifying trim.

During the first half, the fastest cars in race trim were Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman. The times drastically increased when Jeff Burton came out with a qualifying set-up and went to the top of charts. As more cars started changing over, new top times for the session continued to be set with Stewart ultimately finishing on top. Burton finished 15th fastest overall.

The practice schedule this week is another one of those goofy ones where the teams do all their practices for both race and qualifying set-ups on Friday, then qualify on Saturday with no other runs to prepare for race day. Everything a team needs to know for Sunday’s race has to be found in one of the two Friday sessions.

In the final practice, most teams will go back to race trim and do their final tinkering. The only problem is that once a team finds that perfect equation, they have to tear it down and re-set it for Saturday’s qualifying.

NASCAR has to have some good reason for this type of practice scheduling, but can’t think of any other than fuel conservation and helping under-funded teams with the cost of tires -- teams of which rarely practice anyway knowing they are going to start and park.

Next week things go back to normal in Las Vegas with the traditional qualifying practice and qualifying on Friday and then the final two practice sessions on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the Top-5 practice times from the first session:

1. Tony Stewart 138.680 mph (32 laps for 134.737 mph average)
2. Mark Martin 138.611 mph (19 laps for 134.404 mph average)
3. Greg Biffle 138.568 mph (32 laps for 134.186 average)
4. Ryan Newman 138.493 mph (34 laps for 133.586 average)
5. Kasey Kahne 138.408 mph (31 laps for 135.001 average - fastest overall)

Brendan Gaughan, Michael McDowell, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman all wrecked in the final few minutes of the session. Truex Jr may not have to go with a back-up car, but the others will.

Phoenix Practice 1 Results

The final practice session on Friday should be a little more telling to who will do well in Sunday’s race. Right now, it’s hard to ignore last year’s Phoenix fall race winner, Kasey Kahne, in his new No. 5 Hendrick ride, a car that has visited victory lane in the desert multiple times.

Driver Quotes From Friday's Practice

TONY STEWART ON HOW HIS PRACTICE SESSION WAS: “I was pretty happy with it. It’s nice to come back here and kind of finish off where we left off last fall we were pretty good here in the fall. It’s nice to come back in the spring here and do it again.”

KYLE BUSCH ON HOW HIS CAR WAS IN PRACTICE: “It’s alright for a little while. Not too bad. Just shaking her in — getting it used to being back here in Phoenix. The track did a nice job of getting a lot of rubber laid down so it made it a lot easier to transition right in to trying to go fast instead of having to break in a race track and get used to all that and rubber it in and all.”

CARL EDWARDS ON HOW PRACTICE WENT: “Practice went really well for us. This is obviously a huge weekend for us with the Subway Ford being that it is the Subway race. We would really like to win this one for everybody there. Practice went really well. I think we have a very fast race car. It looks like Biffle is extremely fast as well, so we will lean on him a little bit between practices and then try to get the car tuned in for the next practice. It is really weird to see the 60 car drive by, by the way. It is like a dream when you are missing school or something. You forgot that test paper. I am driving it via Trevor.”

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