Ricky Stenhouse, Danica Patrick in top 3 fastest in Friday’s first Sprint Cup practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With rain approaching, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick both acted like they had a fast-approaching lunch reservation with each other during Friday’s morning Sprint Cup practice session.

Stenhouse was the only driver in the 29-car session to exceed 197 mph, with a fast lap of 197.027 mph. Patrick was third-fastest, clocking in at 196.915 mph for third-fastest. Greg Biffle was second-fastest at 196.954 mph.

David Gilliland was fourth (196.863), followed by Tony Stewart (196.790), Jeff Gordon (196.066), Paul Menard (196.023), Ryan Newman (195.976), Kasey Kahne (195.967) and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10 (195.729).

Daytona 500 pole sitter Austin Dillon was only 21st fastest (190.428).

Several young drivers who made the field for Sunday’s Great American Race struggled to find speed in Friday’s first session (the second session in the afternoon is uncertain to occur due to off-and-on rain showers): Cole Whitt was 28th fastest (187.942) and Alex Bowman brought up the rear of the field (185.208).

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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).