Friday, August 31, 2012

Atlanta Practice Notes: Kenseth Fastest in Final Session, Hamlin Still Strongest

Johnson and Junior not sharp in final practice (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

Matt Kenseth was fastest in Saturday’s final practice session in preparation for Sunday night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kenseth’s lap of 180.863 mph was laid down early in the 50-minute session, continuing what has been a great day of practice. In Saturday’s early session Kenseth was second fastest.

Jeff Gordon was second fastest (180.193) and has to be brimming with hope that his final practice leads to his sixth Atlanta win, but more importantly, getting his second win of the season that will virtually guarantee himself a spot in the Chase. Gordon is currently 16-points behind Kyle Busch in the Chase for the 12th and final position. Both drivers have one win a piece with two races to go. Next week at Richmond, Kyle will be one of the favorites to win.

Denny Hamlin had the third fastest lap (179.959) and looks to have one of the strongest cars at the track this weekend. His car on the long runs has been a notch above everyone else.

Kyle Busch came in fourth on the charts (179.837), but didn’t run many laps in the session due to slapping the wall. No back-up car was needed as the crew banged it back into shape. 15 laps was the smallest amount run among the drivers who actually are planning to race on Sunday. He’s got Gordon breathing down his neck in the Chase, but looks to have some speed that might make him a contender. Based on how well he ran on Atlanta’s sister track at Charlotte in May, he figures to be in the mix late competing for the win.

Greg Biffle continued his strong weekend run with the fifth fastest lap at 179.481 mph. In the day's earlier session Biffle was the fastest.

Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-10.

A few notable drivers that finished 20th or worse in the session were Dale Earnhardt Jr (20th), Jimmie Johnson (21st) and Kasey Kahne (28th).

28 drivers ran 10-consecutive laps or more with Jeff Gordon having the best average. Hamlin, Keselowski and Kenseth were next in the category.

Kurt Busch ran the most laps (50) followed by Jeff Burton (49) and Truex Jr. (48).

Since Danica Patrick is running this race, I suppose I’ll mention she ran 30 laps with the 38th fastest, or fifth slowest lap, among the 42 drivers that took a lap.

Top-5 Atlanta Practice 3 Speeds:
1) Matt Kenseth 180.863
2) Jeff Gordon 180.193
3) Denny Hamlin 179.959
4) Kyle Busch 179.837
5) Greg Biffle 181.005

Atlanta Practice 3 Speeds


Biffle Fastest in Second Session, Hamlin Strongest Overall

By Micah Roberts

Biffle won on sister track at Texas (Getty)
Greg Biffle was fastest in Saturday’s early practice session at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the second of three sessions run on the weekend in preparation for Sunday’s Advocare 500. Biffle laid down his fast lap of 181.005 mph early in the 55-minute session and will be looking to carry the momentum over to his first career win on the high-banked 1.5-mile track.

Sister tracks like Las Vegas, Texas and Charlotte always serve as a good barometer for Atlanta and Biffle has been outstanding on all of them this season. He finished third in Las Vegas, fourth in Charlotte and captured one of his two wins on the season at Texas. Based on being fast today, chances are he’s in store for at least another top-5 finish Sunday.

Matt Kenseth was second fastest in the session with a lap of 180.733 mph. Like his teammate Biffle, Kenseth has never won at Atlanta, but has always fared well with eight top-5 finishes, including a career best runner-up finish in 2010.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled in Friday’s practice and qualifying, but still managed to run the third fastest lap (179.901) in this session. Despite the quality single lap speed, Junior was not happy with the way his car was handling. His only win at Atlanta came in 2004 and he’s finished outside the top-10 in his last six starts there. The car he’s running this week won the Sprint Cup showdown at Charlotte in May.

Martin Truex Jr. followed up his top practice speeds from yesterday while in qualifying trim to gaining the fourth fastest lap (179.592) in race trim during today’s early session. Right behind him was MWR teammate Clint Bowyer in a brand new chassis with the fourth fastest lap (178.966).

Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-10 speeds from the early session.

Of all the drivers, Denny Hamlin looked to have had the best practice overall. Hamlin not only had the fastest average speeds during his 26 laps run, but he also was fastest in five and 10-consecutive lap averages. Hamlin has never won at Atlanta and has a career best of third-place in 2008.

17 drivers ran at least 10-consecutive laps. Following Hamlin with the top averages were Kenseth, Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose.

Keselowski ran the most laps of the session (41) followed by Kenseth (40).

The final practice session is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. (ET).

Top-5 Atlanta Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Greg Biffle 181.005 mph
2) Matt Kenseth 180.733
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 179.901
4) Martin Truex Jr. 179.592
5) Clint Bowyer 178.966

Atlanta Practice 2 Speeds

Truex Jr. Fastest in Friday's Session

Michael Waltrip and Martin Truex Jr. pose after signing deal Friday (Getty)
Fresh off of getting a new three-year contract extension for a reported $16 million, Martin Truex Jr. laid down the fastest lap in Friday’s lone practice session at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The fast lap at 185.220 mph allows Truex Jr. to qualify last tonight, while also eliminating rumor talks of NASCAR's silly season.

Kyle Busch was second fastest with a lap of 184.831 mph followed by Tony Stewart (184.253), Brad Keselowski (183.631) and Kasey Kahne (183.613).

Truex Jr. only ran three laps during the session and felt they were dialed in right away in their qualifying set-up with no more laps needed.

Kurt Busch ran the most laps (27) and 11 other drivers ran at least 20 laps.

Three drivers ran 10-consecutive laps or more with Tony Stewart showing the best average times among the small sampling.

Friday’s 90-minute practice session was the first of three to be run this weekend before Sunday night’s Advocare 500. Two sessions will run Saturday that should give us a little more data to work with.

Atlanta Practice 1 Speeds  

Starting Lineup: Stewart captures first pole of 2012

TONY STEWART ON BEING HAPPY AFTER FIRST PRACTICE WITH THIRD BEST TIME: “Yeah, I’m pretty excited especially when that was in racetrim. It wasn’t a qualifying run; our qualifying run was slower than that. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s taking off.”

TONY STEWART ON HOW HE AND MATT KENSETH PATCHED THINGS UP: “Yeah, we are fine. It’s like we mentioned earlier in the week, we have too much to do the last 10 weeks to be worrying about each other. It’s just like we always said there are 43 people out there and they are not always going to agree on the track at the same time. The big thing is getting it done and over with now.”
Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth talking during Friday's practice. Apparently, things are all patched up. (Getty)  

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