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).

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski