Austin Dillon tops lone day of Sprint Cup Preseason Thunder testing

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It may be just for one day of preseason testing, but the midnight-black No. 3 Chevrolet is back on top of a Sprint Cup leaderboard.

Richard Childress Racing rookie Austin Dillon, charged by his grandfather/car owner with returning the iconic number to NASCAR’s top series this season, threw down a single-car lap of 195.109 miles per hour around Daytona International Speedway to lead the lone day of Sprint Cup Preseason Thunder testing.

Rain played a major impact on what was supposed to be a two-day session at Daytona. Instead, Thursday was a complete washout and today’s action didn’t get underway until a little before 1 p.m. ET because of the wet stuff. That caused NASCAR to extend today’s session all the way to 9 p.m. ET with no breaks along the way.

After the lights went on at DIS, a mini-drafting session broke out within the final 90 minutes, with Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Larson among those spotted in the pack. However, teams mostly focused on single-car work today.

In a NASCAR statement, Dillon once again reiterated his pride in reviving the No. 3, which was driven by the late Dale Earnhardt to six of his seven Cup championships.

“I’m honored to be in the 3,” he said. “This is special and walking into this Cup garage this weekend is pretty cool. There are so many heroes in this garage for me, and just being in this garage is going to be pressure.”

RCR compatriots Brian Scott and Matt Crafton were also stout, posting the second and third-quickest times in the session. Scott turned in a single-car hot lap at 194.582 mph in the No. 33 Chevy, while Crafton, the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, dropped a 194.342 in Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevy; Crafton was a last-minute sub for Menard, who was forced to deal with the aftermath of a burst pipe at his home according to Fox Sports.

Chevrolet drivers posted eight of the 10 fastest laps on Friday, with Richard Petty Motorsports’ Almirola leading the Fords in fourth (193.828 mph) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leading the Toyotas in ninth (193.071 mph). Larson, expected to be Dillon’s main rival for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2014, was fifth-fastest for Chip Ganassi Racing (193.411 mph).

In all, 41 drivers turned laps during today’s session (including Rusty Wallace, who shared the No. 2 today with regular driver Brad Keselowski). Kahne (14th, 192.893) ran the most laps out of all of them with 106. Second to Kahne was one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, defending Cup series and Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson, who logged 95 laps and posted the 11th-fastest time (193.021).

Stewart-Haas Racing newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick turned their first Daytona laps with their new squad, which expands to four cars this season. Both posted decent laps – Busch with the seventh-best (193.249), Harvick with the 12th-best (192.988).

Also getting acclimated to a new team was Ryan Newman, now with RCR after leaving Stewart-Haas. The Indiana native was 17th-fastest today (192.448).

SPRINT CUP PRESEASON THUNDER – FRIDAY TIMES

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.