Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. picks up where he left off at Martinsville, fastest in Friday morning Trucks practice

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It appears Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is ready to pick up from where he left off at the last time he raced at Martinsville Speedway.

Wallace became the first African-American driver to win a national event in nearly 50 years when he won at Martinsville last October.

He obviously learned his lessons well there, as he was the fastest in practice Friday morning at the .526-mile, paper-clip shaped track.

In a lengthy practice that lasted nearly three hours (9 am to 11:45 am ET), Wallace was the fastest of the 37 drivers that took practice laps.

And he waited until the final of the 95 laps he ran to do it, covering the track at 96.662 mph.

Ryan Blaney was second-fastest at 96.288 mph, followed by Timothy Peters, Erik Jones and Ben Kennedy in the top-five.

Sixth through 10th were Brian Ickler, German Quiroga Jr., Ron Hornaday Jr., Cole Custer and Matt Crafton.

Nine drivers logged over 100 laps, led by Tyler Reddick (130), John West Townley (118), John Hunter Nemecheck (114), Joey Coulter (113), Korbin Forrister (108), and Marcus Mingus, Ben Rhodes and Tyler Young (all three ran 105 laps), and Erik Jones (103).

Only three drivers failed to exceed 90 mph: Ted Minor (88.718), Norm Benning (who ran just four laps and had a best speed of 88.062) and the slowest driver in the field, Jennifer Jo Cobb (87.594).

The trucks will be back on the track later this afternoon from 3 pm to 4:25 pm ET, just before the start of Sprint Cup qualifying.

Here’s the whole speed chart for the tracks from Friday morning’s practice:

1 Darrell Wallace Jr. 96.662 mph

2 Ryan Blaney 96.228

3 Timothy Peters 96.239

4 Erik Jones 96.220

5 Ben Kennedy 96.146

6 Brian Ickler 96.034

7 German Quiroga Jr. 95.990

8 Ron Hornaday Jr. 95.946

9 Cole Custer 95.762

10 Matt Crafton 95.728

11 Gray Gaulding 95.636

12 Ben Rhodes 95.405

13 Ross Chastain 95.376

14 Johnny Sauter 95.103

15 Chase Pistone 95.094

16 John Wes Townley 95.055

17 Tyler Reddick 94.851

18 Joey Coulter 94.836

19 Mason Mingus 94.623

20 John Hunter Nemecheck 94.581

21 Brandon Jones 94.567

22 Jeb Burton 94.496

23 Tyler Young 94.336

24 Spencer Gallagher 94.087

25 Caleb Holman 94.003

26 Alex Guenette 93.985

27 Clay Greenfield 93.919

28 Ray Black Jr. 93.437

29 Bryan Silas 93.249

30 Raymond Terczak Jr. 92.719

31 Justin Jennings 92.106

32 Travis Kvapil 91.918

33 Josh Williams 91.842

34 Korbin Forrister 90.977

35 Ted Minor 88.718

36 Norm Benning 88.062

37 Jennifer Jo Cobb 87.594

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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.”