Mark Martin leads “Happy Hour” at Fontana

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Mark Martin led a Toyota sweep of the top three positions during final practice for tomorrow’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, posting a top lap at 183.351 mph in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Camry. Martin, who ran 30 laps in “Happy Hour” and is slated to start ninth in the 200-lap race for the Sprint Cup Series, came out ahead of MWR teammate Clint Bowyer (182.945) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth (182.839).

Jimmie Johnson was the fastest Chevrolet driver in the session, going fourth-quickest (182.417). Current Cup standings leader Brad Keselowski was fifth-quickest (182.375) to lead the Ford contingent.

Bristol winner Kasey Kahne was P6 in the practice, with A.J. Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the Top 10. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin was 11th-quickest.

While Kenseth brought Toyota their 50th Sprint Cup win at Las Vegas, he and the rest of the Toyota gang face some pressure this weekend at Fontana. Toyota’s American operations are based in Torrance, Calif., a hour or so west of Auto Club Speedway. In addition, Toyota Racing Development (which provides engines for MWR and JGR) makes Orange County home.

The manufacturer has won eight consecutive Nationwide Series events at ACS going into this weekend and also has a 2001 Champ Car win there thanks to Cristiano da Matta, but they’ve never won a Sprint Cup race at its “home” track.

Still, Bowyer is confident that a victory in SoCal is coming.

“I think this is a track that Toyota is going to win at soon,” Bowyer told NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello.  “Our speeds are fast with our Toyotas on these big race tracks.

“A Toyota won at the only mile-and-a-half we’ve had so far — that speed will carry over, I believe, on this race track. There’s several of us that run well here as teams and drivers and our equipment is certainly second to none, so we’ll be just fine.”

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.