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.

Montoya: ‘Hopefully I get a chance to do Indy again’ (VIDEO)

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Juan Pablo Montoya is on site at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, his latest trip in a summer and fall filled with a lot of international travel and a number of different race cars he’s been in.

Montoya is committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Acura Team Penske in 2018, as he’ll share one of the team’s Acura ARX-05s with Dane Cameron.

However, the question of whether he’ll be able to race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil remains.

Team Penske has said it plans to only run four cars next month of May, with Helio Castroneves as the fourth driver alongside the three full-time cars driven by Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

While Montoya has said elsewhere that he’s shopping offers and has talked with other teams, it’d be highly surprising to see the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who developed the Chevrolet engine for IndyCar’s 2018 Dallara universal body kit in a Honda-powered IndyCar, although he is running Honda’s brand (Acura) in sports cars.

Montoya elaborated on his Indy 500 prospects in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Not full-time no,” Montoya told NBCSN of his IndyCar 2018 prospects. “Hopefully I get a chance to go to Indy, hopefully with Penske, (and) if not someone else. We’ll see.”

Photo: IndyCar

Montoya has extolled the early testing both on the 2018 IndyCar and on the Acura ARX-05.

The first Acura chassis has run at Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway thus far, and will be put through its paces at other venues over the next few months.

“It’s been good. We did a lot of work with INDYCAR on that car. Fans are gonna like it,” Montoya said of the 2018 kit.

“Going to IMSA with the Acura program, we’ve done a lot of testing. It’s a beauty to drive. It drives better than what it looks! I haven’t had that much fun driving a race car in a long time.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018