Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fastest in Friday Sprint Cup practice

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Three drivers who are still chasing their first win of 2014 set the pace during Friday afternoon’s practice for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Happy Hour practice and qualifying take place Saturday.

Six-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who won at TMS last fall during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, recorded the fastest lap of 192.237 mph.

The next fastest were Greg Biffle (192.055) and Ryan Newman (191.564), followed by Daytona 500 winner and current Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. (191.327) and Brian Vickers (190.934).

Two significant mishaps occurred during the 110-minute practice.

First, David Ragan slid into the infield, with the splitter on his No. 34 catching in the grass, doing enough damage to the front end and undercarriage that the team will likely have to go to a backup car.

Another driver who will definitely have to go to a backup car is last week’s winner at Martinsville, Kurt Busch.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the practice session, Busch was coming down the backstretch when it appeared his left rear tire blew out, sending him careening hard and nearly head-on into the retaining wall.

Busch was uninjured, but his car sustained heavy damage.

What made the wreck even harder to take for Busch is he had been the fifth-fastest speed up to that point during the session, and had suffered the problem on the 51st practice lap he had made around the 1.5-mile track.

The slowest driver on the track was JJ Yeley, who was the only driver that failed to crack 180 mph, recording a best of just 179.480 mph in only two laps during the session.

Here’s the entire practice speed chart:

1 Jimmie Johnson 193.237 mph

2 Greg Biffle 192.055

3 Ryan Newman 191.564

4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 191.327

5 Brian Vickers 190.934

6 Jamie McMurray 190.950

7 Kurt Busch 190.590

8 Trevor Bayne 190.577

9 Paul Menard 190.564

10 Marcos Ambrose 190.308

 

11 Kevin Harvick 190.174

12 Kasey Kahne 190.034

13 Casey Mears 189.947

14 Tony Stewart 189.940

15 Denny Hamlin 189.720

16 Carl Edwards 189.553

17 Aric Almirola 189.467

18 Jeff Gordon 189.334

19 Austin Dillon 189.102

20 Kyle Busch 188.990

 

21 AJ Allmendinger 188.904

22 Clint Bowyer 188.785

23 Josh Wise 188.712

24 Dave Blaney 188.495

25 Michael McDowell 188.429

26 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 188.291

27 Danica Patrick 188.265

28 Martin Truex Jr. 188.147

29 Matt Kenseth 188.081

30 Joey Logano 187.624

 

31 Alex Bowman 187.441

32 Kyle Larson 187.279

33 Brad Keselowski 187.220

34 David Stremme 186.722

35 David Reutimann 186.458

36 David Ragan 186.303

37 David Gilliland 186.213

38 Joe Nemechek 185.727

39 Ryan Truex 185.134

40 Justin Allgaier 184.982

 

41 Landon Cassill 184.093

42 Travis Kvapil 183.836

43 Reed Sorenson 183.530

44 Michael Annett 183.505

45 Cole Whitt 183.380

46 Parker Kligerman 183.243

47 JJ Yeley 179.480

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.