Ryan Newman rockets to top of speed charts (179.167 mph) in Darlington Happy Hour

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NASCAR’s rocket man, Ryan Newman, lived up to his nickname in Friday’s Happy Hour final practice for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

In his first season for Richard Childress Racing, Newman took just nine laps of practice, but his seventh lap was the overall fastest of the entire field at 179.167 mph. No other driver exceeded 179 mph in the one hour session.

Second-fastest was a surprisingly stout effort by Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcus Ambrose, who grazed the wall once during his five-lap spin, yet still managed to top everyone else in the field other than Newman at 178.978 mph.

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon was third-fastest at 178.906 mph. Gordon is the winningest active driver at Darlington with seven career Cup wins there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the all-time wins mark at the so-called “Track Too Tough to Tame” with 10 victories during his illustrious career.

He’s looking not only for his eighth career win there Saturday, but is also seeking to become the eighth different race winner in the Cup series in as many races this season.

Kyle Busch was fourth-fastest at 178.802 mph, followed by Monday’s race winner at Texas, Joey Logano, at 178.731 mph.

Other runs of note:

* Aric Almirola, RPM’s other driver, was sixth-fastest at 178.562.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr., still smarting from the driving mistake he made at Texas that left him with a last-place finish, was 11th-fastest at 178.200 mph.

* Three-time Darlington winner and six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 13th-fastest at 177.955 mph.

* Rookie Kyle Larson, who hit the wall in the first practice session Friday morning, bounced back for 16th-fastest in the second session at 177.742 mph.

* While most drivers put in between five and 20 runs, Kevin Harvick, who has struggled since his win earlier this season at Phoenix, did an eye-popping 63 laps around the so-called Lady In Black.

Here’s the complete run-down of the 44 drivers who took practice laps. Remember, qualifying for Saturday’s race will be tonight.

1 Ryan Newman 179.167 mph

2 Marcos Ambrose 178.978

3 Jeff Gordon 178.906

4 Kyle Busch 178.802

5 Joey Logano 178.731

6 Aric Almirola 178.562

7 Austin Dillon 178.543

8 Jamie McMurray 178.439

9 Kasey Kahne 178.400

10 Kurt Busch 178.206

 

11 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 178.200

12 Clint Bowyer 177.974

13 Jimmie Johnson 177.955

14 Brian Vickers 177.916

15 Paul Menard 177.762

16 Kyle Larson 177.742

17 Martin Truex Jr. 177.665

18 Justin Allgaier 177.595

19 Denny Hamlin 177.435

20 AJ Allmendinger 177.396

 

21 Casey Mears 177.358

22 Greg Biffle 177.185

23 Carl Edwards 177.070

24 Tony Stewart 176.759

25 Brad Keselowski 176.714

26 Matt Kenseth 176.549

27 David Ragan 176.006

28 Josh Wise 175.786

29 Kevin Harvick 175.779

30 Parker Kligerman 175.466

 

31 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 175.334

32 Alex Bowman 174.954

33 Dave Blaney 174.941

34 Danica Patrick 174.711

35 Michael Annett 174.699

36 David Reutimann 174.303

37 Ryan Truex 174.007

38 Cole Whitt 173.920

39 David Gilliland 173.773

40 David Stremme 173.571

 

41 Travis Kvapil 173.522

42 Reed Sorenson 173.430

43 Joe Nemecheck 173.399

44 Landon Cassill 170.691

 

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NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.