NASCAR: Tony Stewart 10th in first Cup practice at Atlanta; Edwards fastest

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After several weeks of mourning and reflection, Tony Stewart went back to work.

Following an emotional press conference this morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion turned the 10th-fastest time in today’s first Sprint Cup practice session.

Stewart logged a total of 25 laps in the session, and set his fastest lap – with a speed of 189.642 mph – on his final circuit around the 1.5-mile oval.

It’s a much-needed solid start to the weekend for Stewart and his No. 14 team, which have been declared eligible to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup should Stewart win Sunday at Atlanta or in next Saturday’s regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway.

Stewart has not raced at Atlanta since 2012, as he was unable to compete in last year’s race there due to him recovering from his season-ending leg injury.

Today’s first practice was paced by Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards and his lap of 192.855 mph in the No. 99 Ford Fusion. That lap was almost two-tenths of a second quicker than the best lap from Ryan Newman (191.628 mph), who was second on the time sheets for Richard Childress Racing.

Another Ford driver, Marcos Ambrose of Richard Petty Motorsports, was third-fastest in the session (191.417 mph). Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth (191.199 mph), and rookie Kyle Larson was fifth (191.113 mph).

Making up Positions 6-10 were Brian Vickers, Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, and Stewart.

Other notables were: Jimmie Johnson in 13th, Jeff Gordon in 14th, Danica Patrick in 22nd, Matt Kenseth in 25th, Bristol winner Joey Logano in 26th, and Nationwide Series regular Ty Dillon in 27th. Dillon is making his debut Cup start this weekend.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.