Austin Dillon tops lone day of Sprint Cup Preseason Thunder testing

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It may be just for one day of preseason testing, but the midnight-black No. 3 Chevrolet is back on top of a Sprint Cup leaderboard.

Richard Childress Racing rookie Austin Dillon, charged by his grandfather/car owner with returning the iconic number to NASCAR’s top series this season, threw down a single-car lap of 195.109 miles per hour around Daytona International Speedway to lead the lone day of Sprint Cup Preseason Thunder testing.

Rain played a major impact on what was supposed to be a two-day session at Daytona. Instead, Thursday was a complete washout and today’s action didn’t get underway until a little before 1 p.m. ET because of the wet stuff. That caused NASCAR to extend today’s session all the way to 9 p.m. ET with no breaks along the way.

After the lights went on at DIS, a mini-drafting session broke out within the final 90 minutes, with Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Larson among those spotted in the pack. However, teams mostly focused on single-car work today.

In a NASCAR statement, Dillon once again reiterated his pride in reviving the No. 3, which was driven by the late Dale Earnhardt to six of his seven Cup championships.

“I’m honored to be in the 3,” he said. “This is special and walking into this Cup garage this weekend is pretty cool. There are so many heroes in this garage for me, and just being in this garage is going to be pressure.”

RCR compatriots Brian Scott and Matt Crafton were also stout, posting the second and third-quickest times in the session. Scott turned in a single-car hot lap at 194.582 mph in the No. 33 Chevy, while Crafton, the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, dropped a 194.342 in Paul Menard’s No. 27 Chevy; Crafton was a last-minute sub for Menard, who was forced to deal with the aftermath of a burst pipe at his home according to Fox Sports.

Chevrolet drivers posted eight of the 10 fastest laps on Friday, with Richard Petty Motorsports’ Almirola leading the Fords in fourth (193.828 mph) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leading the Toyotas in ninth (193.071 mph). Larson, expected to be Dillon’s main rival for Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2014, was fifth-fastest for Chip Ganassi Racing (193.411 mph).

In all, 41 drivers turned laps during today’s session (including Rusty Wallace, who shared the No. 2 today with regular driver Brad Keselowski). Kahne (14th, 192.893) ran the most laps out of all of them with 106. Second to Kahne was one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, defending Cup series and Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson, who logged 95 laps and posted the 11th-fastest time (193.021).

Stewart-Haas Racing newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick turned their first Daytona laps with their new squad, which expands to four cars this season. Both posted decent laps – Busch with the seventh-best (193.249), Harvick with the 12th-best (192.988).

Also getting acclimated to a new team was Ryan Newman, now with RCR after leaving Stewart-Haas. The Indiana native was 17th-fastest today (192.448).

SPRINT CUP PRESEASON THUNDER – FRIDAY TIMES

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.