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

 

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.