DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — A familiar name was sitting atop the NASCAR Cup Series speed charts in the opening practice session of the Daytona Speedweeks. Jimmie Johnson found his familiar spot, P1, in his No. 84 Chevrolet on Friday evening. The seven-time series champion turned in a top lap of 194.225 mph.
It’s his first Cup practice session since before the pandemic set in (March 2020).
“It’s my first weekend in this car,” said Johnson, a two-time DAYTONA 500 winner. “It’s (crew chief) Todd (Gordon’s) first weekend working on the Next Gen car and the first time we’ve all worked together. So we’re going through quality reps right now.
“It’s just so fun to get out there and mix it up. I was in a great draft with Chase and understanding the bump-drafting aspect of where this car is and got some quality reps there, too.”
Johnson was 23rd quickest in qualifying on Wednesday and will start Sunday’s 65th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) in 39th place as he had to fall back on being the top open car in single-car qualifying.
The five-time defending Most Popular Driver recipient, Chase Elliott, was second in his No. 9 Chevrolet. Elliott circled the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway with a speed of 194.196 mph. They led a bowtie brigade with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (194.183 mph) and Alex Bowman (194.133 mph) chiming in third and fourth respectively.
Thursday night’s second Duel winner, Aric Almirola, was fifth at 194.108 mph in his No. 10 Ford. He led a Ford armatta who went fifth through 12th.
The top Toyota was 17th.
Three cars didn’t hit the track in the 50-minute session with both Kaulig Racing cars as well as Riley Herbst in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford also electing to sit out.
At 5:33 p.m., Kyle Larson led a parade of Chevrolets to pit road. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion jumped to the top of the speed chart on his second lap, touring the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 46.664 seconds at 192.868 mph.
That lap in the draft was more than 11 mph faster than Bowman’s pole-winning speed of 181.686 mph during single-car qualifying runs on Wednesday night.
With 34 minutes left in the 50-minute session, Ford drivers Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano surpassed Larson’s speed, soon to be joined by Almirola, who posted the fastest speed of the session that that point at 194.107 mph (46.366 seconds).
In a backup car, thanks to a wreck while leading Thursday’s second Duel, Kyle Busch started his practice session in an interesting group that included teammate Austin Dillon and Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez, the latter of whom had sent Busch spinning out of control in the qualifying race.
Busch turned 15 laps in practice, with a high speed of 190.234 mph, before taking his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the garage.
“It’s good,” Busch said of the backup. “It’s really hard to tell the speed, obviously, just being out there with three other cars. You want to be in a bigger pack… I’m really proud of the guys, proud that it feels good, and we’ll get ‘em on Sunday.”
With 11 minutes left, a large pack of Chevrolets led by Johnson drafted back to the top of the chart. With Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bowman close behind, Camaros claimed the top four spots and remained there through the end of the session.
Myatt Snider paces opening Xfinity Series practice
Midway through opening—and final—NASCAR Xfinity Series practice on Friday afternoon, Myatt Snider hooked onto the draft of four JR Motorsports teammates and posted the fastest lap of the session at 187.636 mph as the first and only driver to break the 48-second barrier (47.965).
Sporting Hendrick Motorsports engines, JR Motorsports drivers Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier tied for second fastest at 187.429 mph, followed by teammates Sam Mayer and Josh Berry.
Next Practice will be final practice tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. ET.