Jimmie Johnson fastest in first Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Hendrick Motorsports’ recent test at New Hampshire Motor Speedway appears to be paying off so far.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was quickest in this morning’s first practice session at the Magic Mile. Johnson, who currently holds the top spot on the Chase Grid by virtue of his three wins, posted a lap of 135.313 mph to lead the 90-minute session.

Additionally, Johnson’s Hendrick teammate, Jeff Gordon, was third-quickest (135.164) in practice behind Johnson and Cup rookie Kyle Larson (135.212).

Larson’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, Jamie McMurray, and Kevin Harvick posted identical speeds of 135.131 mph to complete the Top 5.

In comments this morning, Johnson noted that Hendrick chose to test at New Hampshire earlier this summer because the team considered it to be their weakest Chase track.

NHMS will also host the second race of NASCAR’s 10-race playoff in September.

“It really was Chase-focused,” Johnson said of the decision. “I think there are multiple factors a team looks at in picking the tracks you go to [for testing]. If you [lock into the Chase] early, that helps your strategy and you can look more toward the end of the year.

“But something teams also look at is where we are the weakest as an organization.Where do the four crew chiefs and drivers get the most frustrated? For Chase-related race tracks, this is one of them for us.

“That’s why the decision was made as a group. All four drivers and crew chiefs agreed, ‘Yeah, let’s go do Loudon. We need to work there.'”

Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, defending race winner Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch made up Positions 6-10 in practice.

Qualifying for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 is set for 4:40 p.m. ET and that will be followed by two more Cup practices tomorrow (9-9:50 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m. ET).

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT NEW HAMPSHIRE -FRIDAY PRACTICE TIMES

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.