Chase Elliott fastest in Friday’s second Nationwide practice at Bristol

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Kyle Busch may have been the fastest in the first of two Nationwide Series practice sessions Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, but rookie Chase Elliott stole the show in the second session, topping the speed chart.

The son of legendary Cup driver Bill Elliott, the 18-year-old Chase is off to a great season in his first year as a full-time driver in the NNS for the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports.

In his first three NNS races, Elliott has finished 15th (Daytona), ninth (Phoenix) and fifth (Las Vegas).

Elliott led the field in Friday’s second NNS practice with a speed of 124.154 mph (at 15.455 seconds), followed by Kyle Larson (123.970), Matt Kenseth (123.913), Regan Smith (123.682) and Brian Scott (123.348).

Qualifying for and the actual Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 Presented by Lilly Diabetes race both take place Saturday.

All of Friday’s second practice session speeds are below:

1 Chase Elliott 124.154

2 Kyle Larson 123.970

3 Matt Kenseth 123.913

4 Regan Smith 123.682

5 Brian Scott 123.348

6 Dylan Kwasniewski 123.269

7 Kyle Busch 123.261

8 Trevor Bayne 123.071

9 Chris Buescher 123.032

10 Ryan Blaney 122.968

11 Ty Dillon 122.827

12 Kevin Harvick 122.638

13 Mike Bliss 122.513

14 James Buescher 122.411

15 Brendan Gaughan 122.263

16 Ryan Sieg 122.038

17 Elliott Sadler 121.589

18 Cale Conley 121.481

19 Ryan Reed 121.106

20 Kelly Admiraal 121.045

21 Jeffrey Earnhardt 120.581

22 Jeremy Clements 120.263

23 Will Kimmel III 119.925

24 Landon Cassill 119.880

25 Timmy Hill 119.835

26 Jamie Dick 119.745

27 Joe Nemechek 119.514

28 Matt DiBenedetto 119.447

29 Dakoda Armstrong 119.239

30 Eric McClure 119.210

31 Mike Wallace 119.195

32 Carl Long 119.114

33 Tanner Berryhill 118.415

34 Josh Wise 118.349

35 Derrike Cope 117.870

36 Ruben Garcia Mateos 117.272

37 Joey Gase 116.879

38 Willie Allen 116.815

39 Blake Koch 116.772

40 Matt Carter 116.680

41 Kevin LePage 116.340

42 Tommy Joe Martins 107.901

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IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.