Friday, March 27, 2015

Ryan Newman fastest in first Martinsville practice session

Chase Elliott needs to qualify to make STP 500 field; he's listed at 75/1 to win 
Rain delayed the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Martinsville Speedway on Friday, but when they got going it was Ryan Newman who threw down the fastest lap at 97.835 mph in the shortened session. Newman, who won at Martinsville in 2012 (big assist from Clint Bowyer), took the fast lap on his 17th and final lap of the session while in qualifying trim.

AJ Allmendinger had the second fastest lap at 97.679 mph followed Jeff Gordon (97.664), Jimmie Johnson (97.618) and Martin Truex Jr. (97.558). Allmendinger will definitely be someone to watch during final practices on Saturday on the basis of a 10th-place average in both races last season and runner-up in 2012. Gordon and Johnson, well you know, they have 16 wins between them and are always drivers to watch on the flat half-mile layout.

Rounding out the top-10 in practice was Joey Logano (97.412), Jamie McMurray (97.412), Brad Keselowski (97.397), Denny Hamlin (97.212) and Kyle Larson (97.192). Of that group of five, only Hamlin has a win at Martinsville. Hamlin, a Virginia native who grew up racing there, has four wins but none since 2010.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was to not see the Stewart-Haas cars of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch among leaders. They've been fast everywhere lately. Harvick had the 16th fastest lap while two-time Martinville winner Busch was 14th. For Harvick, despite capturing a win in 2011, Martinsville has not been his best track with only three top-5 finishes in 27 career starts.

Nine drivers ran at least 10-consecutive laps during the session with Chase Elliott having the fastest average. Elliott will attempt to make his Sprint Cup debut Sunday, but has to qualify on speed, and if rain is a problem, Elliott won't be able to qualify on points.

There are two practices scheduled for Saturday and those will be the defining sessions that should be used to finalize your wagers or fantasy selections. Martinsville has been pretty cut and dry with not too many surprises over the years, but every once in a while someone steps up to show they're ready to challenge Gordon and Johnson.

Updates will comes on Saturday with final driver ratings.

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