The Ganassi Gang was on the go for the first practice for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway. Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet was the fastest driver Friday morning with a lap of 1:15.299/95.141 mph, the only driver to hit 95 mph. His teammate, Jamie McMurray/No.1 Cessna Chevrolet was second, running 94.544 mph in 115.774 seconds. Their fastest times were turned near the end of the session.
Larson holds the qualifying record at Sonoma, set last year with a lap of 1:14.186/96.568 mph. It was in the first round of qualifying, but unfortunately not in the round that counted, giving the pole to another local driver, A.J. Allmendinger of Los Gatos CA in No.47 Ralphs/Kingsford Chevrolet. Allmendinger ran nineteenth in the morning session and fifteenth in the afternoon.
Third through fifth were Martin Truex Jr/No.78 furniture Row Toyota, Dale Earnhardt Jr/No.88 Axalta Chevrolet, and Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota. Edwards had led much of the 115-minute long session.
Larson grew up 90 minutes from the wine country circuit, in Elk Grove. He’s run 90 Cup races to date, and said it would be awesome to get his first win in his home state here, close to home. “This is probably one of my best tracks too. I really enjoy road course racing, especially here with friends and family that will be here. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know about pressure (from team owner Chip Ganassi, or teammates,) but it would be nice to be the next new person to win a Cup Series race. It’s been a long time since a new person has won. There are a crop of us young guys in our early 20’s that would like to get a win.” Larson reckons that since California has “got the best food there is that’s probably why California has always been a kind of racing hotbed.”
The morning temperature was in the low eighties with a breeze. The track temperature was upwards of 130 degrees F.
Dale Earnhardt Jr./No.88 Axalta Chevrolet was fastest at the end of the afternoon practice session, turning a lap of 95.298 mph/115.175 seconds. He passed Casey Mears/No.13 GEICO Chevrolet mid-way through the session and the two remained one-two for the rest of the 105-minute session. Nine drivers eclipsed the 95 mph mark.
The temperature cooled a bit to 84 degrees F, with a breeze.
Third through fifth were Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Cares Toyota, Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota, and 2015 Cup Champion and last year’s Sonoma race winner, Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota. Busch was one of several drivers having fun riding the blue and gold kerbs in Turn Seven, inside/right side wheels airborne. Busch also took a ride on the wild side through the outside grass going through Turns Nine and Ten.
Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway President/General Manager, admits that when he took over the running of the Northern California circuit, the kerbs were red. A die-hard UC Berkeley grad, he exercised executive privilege a few years back and repainted the kerbs Cal’s iconic blue and gold.
Friday afternoon two well-known colorful characters in NASCAR were inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame: Retired Cup driver, Ernie Irvin and Tony Stewart/No.14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, who is running his last Sonoma Cup race this weekend. Stewart emphasized he was not retiring from racing, just from Sprint Cup race. “I’m getting ready to start the second half of my racing career.” He admitted he’s not feeling as good as “I thought I would with this being my last race here in Cup. “I’ve dedicated 18 years of my life to this series and it’s done great by me. But, at the same time there are other things in life I want to do other than be at a NASCAR track three days a week for 38 weekends out of 52 weekends a year. There is just not enough time to do everything you want to do. It’s time for me to do this. I’m just not sure what they (non-racing things) all are yet.”
Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway President/General Manager said Irvin’s amazing run in the 1992 Sonoma Cup race is the fan-voted top moment/event in the 25-year NASCAR history of the track. He started second, jumped the start earning a black flag to the rear of the field, and proceeded to work his way through the entire 43-car field to win the race.