No surprise: Five-time Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson fastest in Friday Sprint Cup practice

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Jimmie Johnson was fastest in Friday afternoon’s solo pre-qualifying practice session for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Surprised? We aren’t.

Johnson has won a track record five times at what he considers his home track, having grown up about 115 miles southwest of Fontana in El Cajon, a San Diego suburb.

Johnson led the way with a top speed of 188.664 mph. In fact, it was a Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut near the top of the speed charts, with teammates Jeff Gordon second-fastest (188.511) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth-fastest (187.740).

The other member of the HMS clan, Kasey Kahne, had struggles and was only 19th-fastest at 184.667 mph.

Rounding out the top 10 were third-fastest Clint Bowyer (187.774), Sprint Cup points leader Brad Keselowski fifth (187.003), sixth-ranked Kevin Harvick (186.645), seventh-fastest Matt Kenseth (186.446), eight-ranked Kurt Busch (185.926), Brian Vickers (185.744) was ninth-fastest and rounding things out was Tony Stewart (185.219).

Danica Patrick was 16th-fastest (184.919).

Sprint Cup rookie Parker Kligerman continued to struggle this season, managing to be only 40th-fastest (178.749).

But having the most trouble was Landon Cassill, who wrecked about midway through the session, coming out of turn 3 and slamming the turn 4 wall.

It was the second straight week that Cassill has wrecked his No. 40 Hillman Racing Chevrolet, having done so last Saturday at Bristol.

Both were hard wrecks, and it appears Cassill will have to go to a backup car for Sunday’s race, just like he had to do at Bristol.

“It’s tough on us as a team,” Cassill said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve wrecked a car in practice. Last week, the rear end housing broke and (today) something in the right front broke going into turn three.

“I saw something fly out of the cowl, a piece of metal the size of a socket, and we hit the wall. We’ve had a lot of highs and lows this first part of the season and we’re real fortunate to be in the position we’re in, but we’re having to earn it right now.”

Here’s how the field looked in the solo pre-qualifying practice:

1 Jimmie Johnson 188.664 mph

2 Jeff Gordon 188.511

3 Clint Bowyer 187.774

4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 187.740

5 Brad Keselowski 187.003

6 Kevin Harvick 186.645

7 Matt Kenseth 186.446

8 Kurt Busch 185.926

9 Brian Vickers 185.744

10 Tony Stewart 185.219

11 Denny Hamlin 185.214

12 Greg Biffle 185.142

13 Kyle Busch 185.066

14 Marcos Ambrose 185.047

15 Aric Almirola 185.009

16 Danica Patrick 184.919

17 Austin Dillon 184.838

18 Martin Truex Jr. 184.824

19 Kasey Kahne 184.667

20 Carl Edwards 184.644

21 Ryan Newman 184.544

22 Joey Logano 184.398

23 Kyle Larson 184.219

24 Jamie McMurray 184.200

25 Casey Mears 184.148

26 AJ Allmendinger 184.049

27 David Gilliland 183.468

28 Brian Scott 182.992

29 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 182.922

30 David Reutimann 182.811

31 Matt Crafton (for Paul Menard) 182.403

32 Michael Annett 182.260

33 Cole Whitt 181.703

34 Justin Allgaier 181.557

35 David Ragan 181.356

36 Alex Bowman 180.591

37 Ryan Truex 180.014

38 Travis Kvapil 179.574

39 Josh Wise 179.064

40 Parker Kligerman 178.749

41 Reed Sorenson 177.993

42 Joe Nemechek 177.607

43 Landon Cassill 177.550

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Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.

Haas’ sophomore F1 season starts badly with double DNF in Australia

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The Haas Formula 1 team’s sophomore campaign got off to a bad start on Sunday as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were both forced to retire from the Australian Grand Prix.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, making its debut in Australia 12 months ago.

Grosjean scored a memorable sixth-place finish on that day in Melbourne, and looked poised to repeat the result in 2017 after qualifying sixth on Saturday.

A poor start was Grosjean drop to seventh, but he managed to hold position through the opening stint of the race ahead of the pit stop cycle.

However, Grosjean had no chance to wield some strategic genius as Haas did last year, with a water leak forcing him to retire while inside the top 10.

“I suddenly lost a lot of power. I told the guys, then the next thing I knew I had to slow down the car,” Grosjean explained.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result, but again, right now I’m hot and we’re all disappointed to lose a seventh-place position, but the car was there in qualifying in P6. The start wasn’t ideal, so we need to improve that. I felt I was faster than the Williams, so there’s huge potential in the car.

“I guess the key for us is to keep the momentum and get the consistency we didn’t have last year, where I’d be fifth in Bahrain then 19th in China. I really want to improve on that and get more consistency in terms of results. If we do that, then I’m sure there are going to be plenty of races where we can score good points.”

Grosjean’s new teammate for 2017, Kevin Magnussen, suffered an early setback when he clashed with Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson on the first lap, and ultimately retired due to a suspension issue stemming from the incident.

“I had Ericsson on the outside and I understeered into the side of him, which was unfortunate. I lost my front wing and damaged the car a little bit,” Magnussen said.

“We changed the front wing and then I went for a long test session to feel the car and learn a bit more about it, which was good. It feels good and the car is fast.

“That’s the really positive thing from this weekend. The car is there. We just have to make it finish and score points.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “Not the race we wished for, or we expected. With Romain it looks like we had a water leak. We don’t know yet where that came from.

“Obviously, Kevin’s race was destroyed in the third corner after the contact with Ericsson. He then ended up later with a suspension failure, which we still have to investigate why.

“The good thing we take out of here is that the car seems to be fast. We need to work on a few parts and, hopefully, we can get back strong again in China in two weeks.”

Sam Posey previews 2017 with ‘The Winds of Change’ (VIDEO)

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As the 2017 kicks off from Australia, our resident poet laureate Sam Posey has penned his latest essay on what’s to come ahead of the new year.

Here’s a look ahead to the new season, with Posey’s “The Winds of Change” looking at the vast transformation in the sport that occurred over the winter, from the change in ownership, to the change in cars, to the change in the lineups… and to the change in the pecking order.

An archive of Posey’s 2016 essays are linked here.