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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.