Martin Truex Jr. leads five-driver pack to exceed 200 mph in first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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It’s rare a driver gets a second chance in NASCAR, but Martin Truex Jr. did during Friday’s first practice session at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Truex sat on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February, but his hopes and dreams of a win in the Great American Race ended after just 30 laps when the oil pump on his Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet broke.

End of story, end of race for Truex, who ultimately finished last in the 43-driver field.

But in the first of two practice Sprint Cup sessions on Friday, Truex reached back for some of the same magic he had during qualifying at Daytona.

The New Jersey native, who is in his first season at FRR after a four-year stint with Michael Waltrip Racing, was the fastest in the early afternoon practice.

Not only that, Truex cracked the 200 mph mark in doing so, leading the 47 cars that took part in the practice session with a top speed of 200.721 mph.

Truex is currently 27th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Talladega, 159 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

And while his record at Talladega is far from stellar – he’s managed to finish just nine of his prior 18 starts there, Truex is optimistic that he can build upon Friday’s practice time.

“The car is fast, and we knew it would be as fast as it was in Daytona,” Truex said after the first practice session. “We just didn’t have a chance to show the speed at Daytona.

“It’s good that we still have the speed in it.  We put ourselves in the right spot today to hit the big number. I think we only did nine or 10 laps and everything felt good so we’re ready to go and qualify tomorrow.”

As a result, Truex said he would not take part in Friday’s second practice session.

As for qualifying Saturday, Truex said there’s more from where Friday’s practice speed came from.

“We would like to be in the same position as we were today,” he said. “At the start of practice we got in front of a line of cars and were able to make a run up there.

“The difference (during Saturday’s qualifying) is that we don’t know what everyone else’s plan is going to be.  Everyone will be trying to do what we did in practice today and that’s to be in the right position to get the fastest speed.

“And at the same time, it’s going to be a risky session. Our No. 1 goal right now is to make sure this Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet races on Sunday. If we feel like we’re in a danger zone, we’ll abort. It really doesn’t matter where you start here.”

Truex is coming off a season-best finish of 10th at Richmond last Saturday, had plenty of company as four other drivers also cracked 200 mph:

Justin Allgaier (200.666), last year’s ‘Dega spring race winner David Ragan (200.599), Marcos Ambrose (200.540) and super rookie Kyle Larson was fifth-fastest (200.372).

Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards (199.921), Michael Waltrip (199.875), David Gilliland (199.666), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (199.654) and Danica Patrick was 10th-fastest at 199.625 mph.

On the flip side, several drivers struggled to find speed in the first session. Kyle Busch was 41st-fastest (195.389 mph), Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right behind (195.337), six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 45th-fastest (190.537) and J.J. Yeley brought up the rear of the field at an almost glacial 187.331 mph.

Chevrolet dominated the first practice session from a manufacturer’s standpoint with 11 Chevy-powered drivers among the fastest in the top 20.

Ford had seven drivers while Toyota continued its struggles with only one driver in the top 10 (Waltrip, seventh-fastest) and Clint Bowyer (18th-fastest).

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The Callaway Corvette GT3 is coming to America, in PWC

Photo: Callaway Competition USA
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Pirelli World Challenge has been in need of some good news from a car count standpoint early into this offseason, and receives it Monday with confirmation Callaway Competition will bring its GT3-spec homologated Corvette C7 GT3-R Stateside next season.

The withdrawal of the factory Cadillac Racing program after PWC’s season finale in Sonoma in September has opened the door for the factory-blessed Corvette C7 GT3-R to run in North America, because Cadillac’s ATS-V.R has been the lone GT3-spec car under the General Motors awning for the last three seasons, while the Callaway Corvette has raced only internationally.

Reeves Callaway has been on site at the tail end of the PWC season to survey the opportunity and now a deal has been struck for a factory effort to run next year, before the Callaway Corvette program becomes a customer effort in 2019. This follows the same timeline as Acura did with its new NSX GT3 this year to run it as a factory program in 2017 before shifting to customer efforts in 2018.

“Joining the Pirelli World Challenge has been a long term objective for Callaway Competition,” Callaway said in a release. “Now the field is a roll-call of the most capable sports cars from every country. To do well here, you must beat the best in the world. What better way to showcase our iconic American car?

“For 2018, we will run a Callaway factory team to give us the best chance of continuing the championship record the Corvette has achieved in international competition. For 2019, we will not race against our customers, but provide high-quality support to them in the tradition of other manufacturer customer racing support programs.”

“For several years fans have asked when they would see the Callaway Corvette GT3 run in the Pirelli World Challenge,” added Greg Gill, President and CEO of Pirelli World Challenge. “The wait is over and we are very pleased to announce the arrival of the Callaway Corvette GT3 for the 2018 season.”

The Callaway Competition USA Corvette C7 GT3-R will be unveiled and both full season drivers announced at the Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis on December 7 at the Pirelli World Challenge booth. Following the unveiling event, the car will be on display for the remainder of the trade show. Details of the presentation will be announced in the coming weeks.

Callaway’s confirmation comes amidst the likely drawdown of potentially nine or 10 cars that raced in PWC’s GT and GTA ranks either all season or most of it in 2017, among at least five manufacturers. That’s not to say those losses can’t be recouped elsewhere on the grid, over the next several months before the St. Petersburg season opener in March.

PWC will hold its annual state of the series and competitor meeting to finalize the next year’s plans at the PRI show as well.