Bowyer, Ambrose fastest in Friday’s Sprint Cup practice sessions at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer appears ready to pick up where he left off the last time he raced at Sonoma Raceway, winning there in last year’s race.

And Marcos Ambrose, who already has two career road course wins at Watkins Glen International but is looking for his first at the 1.99-mile Sonoma layout, looks like he’ll be a factor in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350.

Ambrose, who won the pole for this race last year, was the fastest driver in the first of two practice sessions Friday with a series-best lap of 94.049 mph.

Bowyer, meanwhile, was the fastest in the late afternoon session at 94.556 mph. His win in last year’s race was his first for Michael Waltrip Racing and laid the groundwork for what would be an eventual runner-up finish to champion Brad Keselowski in the final Sprint Cup season standings.

Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya, whose first career Cup win came at Sonoma in his rookie season in 2007, was second-fastest in the first practice session in his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, followed by Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and another Earnhardt-Ganassi driver, Jamie McMurray, as fifth-fastest.

In the second session, McMurray moved up to second-fastest, followed by Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Montoya. Of note, while Ambrose was the only driver to break 94 mph in the first session, 10 drivers broke the mark in the second practice.

Several drivers ran into trouble during the afternoon session, spinning or running off-track, including Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, whose car suffered minor but repairable damage.

Also of note, speeds in the first practice set the groupings for Saturday’s first-ever Sprint Cup series event using European-style qualifying with five or six cars going out at a time, each attempt separated by five seconds of starting time.

Qualifying takes place Saturday starting at 2 pm ET.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.