Coming ahead of the debut of NASCAR’s new knock-out qualifying format, today’s 90-minute practice session for the Sprint Cup Series at Phoenix International Raceway was already going to be important.
But with rain in the forecast this weekend in Phoenix – particularly for tonight and Saturday – there’s the distinct possibility that today’s practice may be the only one the Cup stars get for Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.
One driver that appears ready is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made his way to the top of the time sheets late today with a lap of 25.951 seconds around the one-mile PIR oval.
Before practice, the newly-crowned Daytona 500 champion said that it would be easy to get back into a racing mindset this weekend after his cross-country media blitz over the last few days.
“[The team and I are] still gonna be talking and thinking and joking about that win even [during] this weekend, but that’s not a bad problem to have on a race weekend – talking about last week,” he said to reporters.
“I feel like I shouldn’t have any problem getting out there on the race track and doing the best I can do. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve had the opportunity to win races and get back next weekend and do it again. It should be no problem.”
Joey Logano was second-fastest in the session with a time of 26.022 seconds, followed by Kyle Busch in third (26.042), Greg Biffle in fourth (26.104), and rookie Austin Dillon in fifth (26.125).
Weather permitting, qualifying is set to take place later this evening at 6:40 p.m. ET and will feature the two-round version of the new format, as Phoenix is less than 1.25 miles in length.
The Top 12 cars from the 30-minute opening round will move into the 10-minute second round that determines the pole sitter for Sunday’s event.
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.
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.