2012 Sonoma winner Clint Bowyer is looking strong heading into tomorrow’s qualifying session on the Northern California circuit.
After running P2 in today’s first practice session to Kurt Busch, Bowyer improved to the top spot in final practice with a time of 74.634 seconds around the 1.99-mile road course.
Sonoma has been one of Bowyer’s strongholds in recent years. In addition to his aforementioned triumph two years ago, Bowyer has collected five Top-5s and six Top-10s there for an average finish of 9.1 – second only to Jeff Gordon (8.2).
Following Bowyer in final practice was Paul Menard, who is coming off a fourth-place result at Michigan. Menard made a move late to go up to P2 with a lap of 74.981 seconds.
After settling among the Top 10 speeds in the first practice, Carl Edwards rose to third in the second session after posting a lap of 75.043 seconds.
Jamie McMurray was fourth-fastest for Chip Ganassi Racing (75.045 secs), while Dale Earnhardt Jr. – a driver that has never claimed a Top-10 finish in his Cup career at Sonoma – was listed fifth on the sheets (75.045 secs).
Positions 6-10 were filled by rookie Kyle Larson, defending Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, and Greg Biffle. Last week’s Michigan winner, Jimmie Johnson, was 23rd.
Qualifying will take place tomorrow afternoon at 1:40 p.m. ET, followed by Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at 1 p.m. ET.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT SONOMA – FINAL PRACTICE TIMES
Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.
Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.
The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.
Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.
“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.
“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.
“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.
“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”
Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.