Kyle Larson fastest in Friday’s first Sprint Cup practice session at Kansas; Almirola second, Bowyer third

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For those who believe rookie Kyle Larson is close to earning his first Sprint Cup victory, if it happens Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, you can point to Friday’s first practice session as laying the foundation for a potential win.

Larson was the fastest of the 44 drivers that took to the track on the 1.5-mile layout, and was also the only driver to exceed 189 mph, completing 61 laps with a best lap of 189.076 mph.

Aric Almirola was second-fastest (188.620 mph), followed by Emporia, Kan., native Clint Bowyer (188.528), who is still seeking his first career win at his “home track.” Bowyer will also be making his 300th career Sprint Cup start in Saturday’s race.

One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises was the performance of Dave Blaney. Even though he took just six practice laps, Blaney turned the fourth-fastest lap at 188.455 mph.

Blaney cut his on-track time short to also watch over son Ryan, who is attempting to qualify for his first-ever Cup race. Ryan Blaney was 17th-fastest, with a best one-lap speed of 187.104.

Kasey Kahne led all drivers with 63 laps and a top speed of 188.042 mph, good for fifth-fastest.

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Greg Biffle (187.859 mph), Kevin Harvick (187.839), Joey Logano (187.813), Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon (187.800) and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson (187.767).

All four HMS drivers were separated by just nine spots, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. 14th-fastest (187.435 mph).

The three-slowest drivers in the session were Reed Sorenson (183.007), Cole Whitt (182.630) and Timmy Hill (181.184).

The second practice session – one hour in length – begins at 2:30 pm ET. Check back with MotorSportsTalk for those results, as well as qualifying, which kicks off at 6:40 pm ET.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.