Vickers, Bowyer top Saturday morning Sprint Cup practice speed charts, Danica Patrick 6th-fastest

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Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer were fastest in Saturday morning’s first of two Sprint Cup practice sessions for Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Toyota-powered Vickers and Bowyer were the only drivers to eclipse 188 mph.

Vickers topped the speed charts with a very stout 188.950 mph effort, followed by Bowyer at 188.350 mph.

Brad Keselowski, who starts on the outside pole for Sunday’s race alongside pole sitter and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano (who was 18th fastest), was third fastest at 187.976 mph, followed by Jimmie Johnson (187.656) and Jamie McMurray (186.656).

One of the biggest surprises was Danica Patrick, who was sixth-fastest at 187.630 mph. Patrick was the fastest of the four Stewart-Haas drivers, with Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick the next fastest in the SHR stable, in 15th at 186.213 mph.

Right behind Patrick with the seventh-fastest speed was rookie Kyle Larson at 187.559 mph.

Sprint Cup Series points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 12th fastest at 186.767 mph.

The final Happy Hour practice takes place at 2:30 to 3:30 pm ET this afternoon.

Here’s Saturday morning’s speed chart:

1. Brian Vickers, 188.950

2. Clint Bowyer, 188.350

3. Brad Keselowski, 187.976

4. Jimmie Johnson, 187.741

5. Jamie McMurray, 187.656

6. Danica Patrick, 187.630

7. Kyle Larson, 187.559

8. Kasey Kahne, 187.448

9. Kyle Busch, 186.981

10. Carl Edwards, 186.981

11. Ryan Newman, 186.858

12. Dale Earnahrdt Jr., 186.767

13. Martin Truex Jr., 186.767

14. Paul Menard, 186.625

15. Kevin Harvick, 186.213

16. Austin Dillon, 186.213

17. Aric Almirola, 186.162

18. Joey Logano, 185.963

19. Greg Biffle, 185.906

20. David Ragan, 185.771

21. Kurt Busch, 185.765

22. AJ Allmendinger, 185.714

23. Jeff Gordon, 185.440

24. Marcos Ambrose, 185.280

25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 185.147

26. Matt Kenseth, 185.128

27. Denny Hamlin, 185.071

28. Casey Mears, 184.748

29. Jeff Burton, 184.704

30. Michael McDowell, 184.584

31. Tony Stewart, 184.540

32. Cole Whitt, 184.231

33. David Gilliland, 184.156

34. Justin Allgaier, 184.024

35. Trevor Bayne, 183.730

36. Parker Kligerman, 183.299

37. Josh Wise, 183.243

38. Ryan Truex, 183.156

39. Alex Bowman, 182.840

40. Travis Kvapil, 182.667

41. Reed Sorenson, 182.377

42. Michael Annett, 182.322

43. Timmy Hill, 180.886

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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”