Kyle Larson tops first Sprint Cup practice at Richmond

Leave a comment

Driving the car that probably should have won last spring’s race at Richmond International Raceway, rookie phenom Kyle Larson took the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to P1 in today’s first practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at RIR.

Larson’s 21.280-second lap (126.880 mph) around the 3/4-mile bullring was set early on in the two-hour session, and it was able to stand up for the remainder.

Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski came the closest to the 21-year-old with a time of 21.396 seconds (126.192 mph) in his No. 2 “Carolina Blue” Deuce.

The No. 42 camp should feel confident about their chances this weekend in the RVA. Last spring, Juan Pablo Montoya gave it a stellar drive and was on the verge of winning before a caution with five laps to go ultimately stopped him from claiming his first Sprint Cup win on an oval.

But while Montoya has since returned to IndyCar racing, Larson has proven to be a stellar freshman in Sprint Cup. He’s overcome a slow start to string together four Top-10 finishes in his last five outings, and could be a dark horse in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400.

Larson finished eighth and 14th in two Richmond starts last year in the Nationwide Series.

Fresh off his recent wedding in the Bahamas, Clint Bowyer was third-fastest in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota with a lap of 21.444 seconds (125.909 mph). Kasey Kahne was fourth on the charts (21.466/125.780), and the most recent Sprint Cup winner, Kevin Harvick, rounded out the Top 5 (21.527/125.424).

A second, one-hour practice will go off today at 1 p.m. ET, followed by qualifying for Saturday’s main event shortly after 5 p.m. ET.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP AT RICHMOND – FIRST PRACTICE TIMES

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.