For the first time in nearly a full year, the NASCAR Cup Series had a practice session. The last one came at the Phoenix Raceway on March 6. Wednesday, 44 drivers were given 50 minutes to prepare for qualifying for this Sunday’s 63rd annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) as well as Thursday night’s Duels too.
With this being the lone on track practice session until Saturday, it featured varying strategies among the teams. The top of the speed chart was filled with drivers electing to work in the draft. They did so with manufacturer help. The bottom portion was filled with teams working on single car runs.
Bubba Wallace topped the speed charts with a speed of 199.747 mph in his No. 23 Toyota. He led a Toyota brigade with the entire top five being a clear sweep from the Toyota camp.
The man with a freshly signed contract extension in Martin Truex Jr. (199.694 mph) was P2 in his No. 19 Toyota. The two-time defending Daytona 500 champion (Denny Hamlin) was third with a lap of 199.689 mph in his No. 11 Toyota. Last night’s Busch Clash winner, Kyle Busch, came in fourth (199.627 mph) while Christopher Bell (199.623 mph) rounded out the top five.
All those laps were turned early in the session as the five drivers all worked in tandem in drafting practice.
2010 Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray (199.358 mph) was the best of the rest in sixth while his teammate Corey LaJoie (199.159 mph) was seventh.
Eighth through 17th was filled from the blue ovals with Michael McDowell leading the charge for the Ford camp in eighth.
The obvious notable that was absent from the top of the speed charts was Hendrick Motorsports. They were 22-23-26-29 on the speed charts. That’s because they didn’t run in the draft at all and elected for single car runs to work on ride heights in preparation for a run at the pole later tonight.
Chevrolet has won eight straight Daytona 500 poles and 13 of the last 15 overall. HMS has won five of the last six themselves, which is why it was telling that they chose to work on single car speed. Despite not being at the top of the speed charts, they have to be the favorites still for the pole later.
All 44 cars took time on Wednesday with Ryan Preece (19th) leading the way among the eight open drivers with a speed of 194.569 mph. Ty Dillon (26th) was second best for the open cars at a speed of 189.032 mph.
Where this is crucial is the top two open drivers in qualifying later will have guaranteed spots into the Daytona 500.
Kaz Grala (30th), David Ragan (31st), Austin Cindric (32nd), Noah Gragson (36th), Garrett Smithley (37th) and Timmy Hill (38th) were the other open drivers in the field.
For Cindric and Gragson, they said last week that they were going to use this session not so much for drafting, but for getting used to a Cup car. They’ve never driven one prior to today.