Bowyer, Ambrose fastest in Friday’s Sprint Cup practice sessions at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer appears ready to pick up where he left off the last time he raced at Sonoma Raceway, winning there in last year’s race.

And Marcos Ambrose, who already has two career road course wins at Watkins Glen International but is looking for his first at the 1.99-mile Sonoma layout, looks like he’ll be a factor in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350.

Ambrose, who won the pole for this race last year, was the fastest driver in the first of two practice sessions Friday with a series-best lap of 94.049 mph.

Bowyer, meanwhile, was the fastest in the late afternoon session at 94.556 mph. His win in last year’s race was his first for Michael Waltrip Racing and laid the groundwork for what would be an eventual runner-up finish to champion Brad Keselowski in the final Sprint Cup season standings.

Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya, whose first career Cup win came at Sonoma in his rookie season in 2007, was second-fastest in the first practice session in his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, followed by Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and another Earnhardt-Ganassi driver, Jamie McMurray, as fifth-fastest.

In the second session, McMurray moved up to second-fastest, followed by Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Montoya. Of note, while Ambrose was the only driver to break 94 mph in the first session, 10 drivers broke the mark in the second practice.

Several drivers ran into trouble during the afternoon session, spinning or running off-track, including Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, whose car suffered minor but repairable damage.

Also of note, speeds in the first practice set the groupings for Saturday’s first-ever Sprint Cup series event using European-style qualifying with five or six cars going out at a time, each attempt separated by five seconds of starting time.

Qualifying takes place Saturday starting at 2 pm ET.

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force has another spectacular motor explosion

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force endured yet another spectacular motor explosion – his third in the NHRA’s first three national event races – during Friday’s qualifying at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

It’s the kind of consistency the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ could do without.

The 68-year-old Force came to Gainesville hoping to break the jinx that saw him endure explosions in both the season-opening Winternationals and the second race of the season in Phoenix.

Both motor explosions sent Force to the hospital for examination before he returned to the race track.

Friday, even though the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro blew up again (in the second round of qualifying), at least this time, Force didn’t wind up in the hospital.

He did have his right hand bandaged from a cut suffered in the explosion, but did not have to go to the hospital this time.

He even joked about not having to add yet another ambulance bill to the nearest Gainesville hospital.

But the explosion still proved costly.

“That was another body and that hurts the financial (bottomline),” Force said. “I was out $500,000 to $600,000, and now we are probably out $800,000, going on a million. In drag racing, you have to be tough.”

He ended the day qualifying 14th, not a very comfortable position with two more rounds of qualifying set for Saturday.

Force continues to be mystified why the motors keep exploding.

“I really thought we had it, I thought we were there,” Force said. “In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”

Force will attempt to improve his qualifying spot during Saturday’s final two rounds to make Sunday’s eliminations.

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