After finishing one-two in the Daytona 500, it seems that Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. can’t get away from each other.
Denny Hamlin would top the chart in the final Sprint Cup Series practice of the weekend, posting the quickest time with a lap of 29.419 seconds. Hamlin posted the lap time that’d top the session within the first 10 minutes of the 80-minute long session.
“We’re looking forward to it obviously,” Hamlin said yesterday following the first practice. “We have this change in the rules package that we’ve been pushing for for quite a while. Yeah, it’s going to take some time to get it figured out. We obviously struggled a little bit the first practice, but we’ll go to work and it’s so early. I hadn’t tested or anything, run any car at any point from Homestead to right now on any kind of track other than a superspeedway. Trying to knock some rust off and the team is trying to get acclimated as well, so it will take a bit of a process. Not expecting it to happen overnight, but we’ve got some direction to go to.”
Martin Truex Jr. was second quickest during the session, posting a lap that was just 0.035 seconds slower than Hamlin. Truex is break through for his first win at Atlanta Motor Speedway after posting a pair of previous top-five finishes.
Hendrick Motorsports would round out the top-five, with Jimmie Johnson third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott.
Johnson comes in as one of the favourites, boosting the best average of all drivers at 11.8 seconds and won this event last season.
“Expectations are high,” Johnson said. “We are very excited to get to a 1.5-mile track. I’m excited about the new rules package. I think these cooler temperatures are going to add a lot of grip and maybe not show the real potential. The drivers are so excited about the rules package. I’ve always had great success here. It’s been a lot of fun. I think this track with the high tire wear and the bumpy conditions and the fact that you have to search around for lines really suits my style, and suits my upbringing racing on the dirt. It’s been a great race track for me. Looking forward to a strong performance.”
Both Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott are hoping to have good runs on Sunday, after wrecking out of the Daytona 500. It marks Elliott’s first trip to his home track as a Sprint Cup Series competitor.
Kyle Busch was sixth quickest, followed by Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. The session didn’t go perfect for McMurray, though, as he slapped the front stretch wall about 20 minutes into the practice; his Chip Ganassi Racing team was able to make quick repairs.
“I came off turn four, and I hadn’t looked at my lap time on the backstretch so I wanted to look at it. I just looked down and by the time that I looked back up, I was sliding into the wall,” McMurray said. “I just made a mistake. The McDonalds Chevrolet is fast and we’ll get it fixed up, and ready to go for tomorrow.”
While single lap/new tires speed is important, many teams focused on how fast and how they’d handle once they got multiple laps on a set of tires. With the tire compound that Goodyear brought to the track, combined with Atlanta’s abrasiveness, times would fall up to a second over the course of a run.
Notably, the Penske Racing drivers failed to qualify inside the top-15 and in practice, they failed to crack the top-15 once again. It seems as though the organization has yet to hit on the right set-up required with the new low downforce package. Details surrounding the package, as laid out by NASCAR, can be read below.
Lowering the downforce on a car makes it harder to drive, which puts more emphasis on driver skill and increases the potential for more passing.
Changes to the car for this season’s aero package include reductions to:
– Spoiler – 2015: 6” tall, 2016: 3.5” tall
o Air coming over the top of the car hits the spoiler, which pushes the back of the car down. A shorter spoiler creates less downforce than a taller spoiler.
– Splitter – 2015: 2” overhang, 2016: .25” overhang
o The splitter “splits” air and forces it to accelerate under the car, creating a high-pressure zone above the splitter and a low-pressure zone underneath that sucks the car down. Shortening the splitter reduces downforce.
– Radiator Pan – 2015: 38” wide, 2016: 33” wide
o The radiator pan is a flat panel that extends behind the splitter and under the car, deflecting air to create more downforce. A narrower panel is less effective in deflecting air, which slows airflow and creates less downforce.
|POS||DRIVER||LAPS||FAST SPEED||FAST TIME||BEHIND|
|1||#11 Denny Hamlin||52||188.450||29.419||Leader|
|2||#78 Martin Truex Jr.||46||188.226||29.454||0.035|
|3||#48 Jimmie Johnson||51||187.297||29.600||0.181|
|4||#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.||51||187.095||29.632||0.213|
|5||#24 Chase Elliott||65||186.963||29.653||0.234|
|6||#18 Kyle Busch||57||186.679||29.698||0.279|
|7||#1 Jamie McMurray||56||186.347||29.751||0.332|
|8||#13 Casey Mears||55||186.115||29.788||0.369|
|9||#41 Kurt Busch||52||186.084||29.793||0.374|
|10||#31 Ryan Newman||57||185.947||29.815||0.396|
|11||#20 Matt Kenseth||69||185.903||29.822||0.403|
|12||#42 Kyle Larson||51||185.822||29.835||0.416|
|13||#17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||55||185.362||29.909||0.490|
|14||#16 Greg Biffle||48||185.362||29.909||0.490|
|15||#4 Kevin Harvick||59||185.269||29.924||0.505|
|16||#5 Kasey Kahne||54||185.207||29.934||0.515|
|17||#2 Brad Keselowski||49||185.189||29.937||0.518|
|18||#27 Paul Menard||36||185.071||29.956||0.537|
|19||#21 Ryan Blaney||51||184.966||29.973||0.554|
|20||#3 Austin Dillon||58||184.948||29.976||0.557|
|21||#19 Carl Edwards||50||184.886||29.986||0.567|
|22||#15 Clint Bowyer||45||184.327||30.077||0.658|
|23||#83 Matt DiBenedetto||32||183.899||30.147||0.728|
|24||#43 Aric Almirola||35||183.643||30.189||0.770|
|25||#6 Trevor Bayne||51||183.382||30.232||0.813|
|26||#23 David Ragan||45||183.230||30.257||0.838|
|27||#47 AJ Allmendinger||56||183.097||30.279||0.860|
|28||#34 Chris Buescher||47||183.097||30.279||0.860|
|29||#7 Regan Smith||48||183.097||30.279||0.860|
|30||#44 Brian Scott||46||182.964||30.301||0.882|
|31||#10 Danica Patrick||55||182.922||30.308||0.889|
|32||#22 Joey Logano||64||182.886||30.314||0.895|
|33||#14 Ty Dillon||55||182.789||30.330||0.911|
|34||#95 Michael McDowell||39||181.497||30.546||1.127|
|35||#38 Landon Cassill||30||180.804||30.663||1.244|
|36||#46 Michael Annett||36||179.977||30.804||1.385|
|37||#98 Cole Whitt||34||177.863||31.170||1.751|
|38||#30 Josh Wise||26||177.385||31.254||1.835|
|39||#32 Jeffrey Earnhardt||35||177.317||31.266||1.847|