Fast Friday was just that for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway for the first practice of the day. After half of the session with no changes at all in the top ten positions, then one by one drivers jumped to the top of the charts, with Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Cheverolet SS King of the Hill. His top time was 95.470 mph/75.039 seconds.
Only three drivers made the 95+ mph class, – Busch, and two drivers from the Toyota Camry stable of Michael Waltrip Racing: 2012 Sonoma winner, Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy in P2 and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine.
Busch and Bowyer unofficially went faster than the existing qualifying track record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012. Official records can only be set in a qualifying or race session.
For the first hour Aussie Ambrose, in No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion, led the pack, followed by Kurt Busch and local driver, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 Kingsford/Clorox JT Daughtery Racing Chevrolet SS.
Then after an hour of cruising, Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS jumped up, followed by a succession of faster drivers, including: last year’s Sonoma winner, Martin Truex Jr No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS; Tony Stewart No.14 Mobil 1 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS, who came from way back in the pack; and Kurt Busch.
The top Rookie was another local driver, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, who finished fifth, behind Martin Truex Jr. This is the first time ever for young Larson at the Sonoma road course. Although he hails from nearby Elk Grove, his Northern California background was sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown cars on short track oval,s and he won everything in sight. He moved up to stock cars including K&N Pro Series East, not West, so he never made it to the Sonoma track. After moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he was 2013 Rookie of the Year. Wednesday Larson was feted in his home town including being given the Key to the City – first time it’s ever happened in the town.
In the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West first practice, Larson finished second, behind another Sprint Cup Driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Third was Greg Pursley No.26 GPM Ford, followed by Austin Cameron No.10 Big Red Chevrolet. Cameron has since withdrawn after a disastrous car fire. He is OK – his car is not. Fifth overall was Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.
The other Sprint Cup drivers running the K&N Series were Justin Algaier in eighth, and Rookie Austin Dillon in thirteenth place. David Mayhew was ninth. He is a regular in the K&N series and is also filling in Friday and Saturday as driver for J.J.Yeley in the No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS, while Yeley runs the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Road America. Yeley will be back Sunday for the Sprint Cup race.
Another interesting name shows up in the K&N Series – James Bickford in No.6 Sunrise Ford. The Rookie is the cousin of five-time Cup winner at Sonoma, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS. Gordon spent a lot of time talking with young Bickford when Gordon was out at Sonoma for the Goodyear tire test, but hasn’t had time to chat with him so far this weekend. One or the other is always on the track. Bickford was sixteenth fastest of the 32 K&N drivers in the first practice.
The Cup session was safe.
Forty-two of the 43 drivers were on course. Missing was Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Jay Robinson Racing Toyota Camry. There also was a driver substitution – David Mayhew for J.J.Yeley in No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS. Yeley is back at Road America for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, so Mayhew will practice and qualify the car. Yeley will fly back to run the race, starting from the back of the pack due to the driver substitution.