Chase Elliott fastest in Friday’s second Nationwide practice at Bristol

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Kyle Busch may have been the fastest in the first of two Nationwide Series practice sessions Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, but rookie Chase Elliott stole the show in the second session, topping the speed chart.

The son of legendary Cup driver Bill Elliott, the 18-year-old Chase is off to a great season in his first year as a full-time driver in the NNS for the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports.

In his first three NNS races, Elliott has finished 15th (Daytona), ninth (Phoenix) and fifth (Las Vegas).

Elliott led the field in Friday’s second NNS practice with a speed of 124.154 mph (at 15.455 seconds), followed by Kyle Larson (123.970), Matt Kenseth (123.913), Regan Smith (123.682) and Brian Scott (123.348).

Qualifying for and the actual Drive to Stop Diabetes 300 Presented by Lilly Diabetes race both take place Saturday.

All of Friday’s second practice session speeds are below:

1 Chase Elliott 124.154

2 Kyle Larson 123.970

3 Matt Kenseth 123.913

4 Regan Smith 123.682

5 Brian Scott 123.348

6 Dylan Kwasniewski 123.269

7 Kyle Busch 123.261

8 Trevor Bayne 123.071

9 Chris Buescher 123.032

10 Ryan Blaney 122.968

11 Ty Dillon 122.827

12 Kevin Harvick 122.638

13 Mike Bliss 122.513

14 James Buescher 122.411

15 Brendan Gaughan 122.263

16 Ryan Sieg 122.038

17 Elliott Sadler 121.589

18 Cale Conley 121.481

19 Ryan Reed 121.106

20 Kelly Admiraal 121.045

21 Jeffrey Earnhardt 120.581

22 Jeremy Clements 120.263

23 Will Kimmel III 119.925

24 Landon Cassill 119.880

25 Timmy Hill 119.835

26 Jamie Dick 119.745

27 Joe Nemechek 119.514

28 Matt DiBenedetto 119.447

29 Dakoda Armstrong 119.239

30 Eric McClure 119.210

31 Mike Wallace 119.195

32 Carl Long 119.114

33 Tanner Berryhill 118.415

34 Josh Wise 118.349

35 Derrike Cope 117.870

36 Ruben Garcia Mateos 117.272

37 Joey Gase 116.879

38 Willie Allen 116.815

39 Blake Koch 116.772

40 Matt Carter 116.680

41 Kevin LePage 116.340

42 Tommy Joe Martins 107.901

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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