Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fastest in Friday Sprint Cup practice

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Three drivers who are still chasing their first win of 2014 set the pace during Friday afternoon’s practice for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Happy Hour practice and qualifying take place Saturday.

Six-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who won at TMS last fall during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, recorded the fastest lap of 192.237 mph.

The next fastest were Greg Biffle (192.055) and Ryan Newman (191.564), followed by Daytona 500 winner and current Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. (191.327) and Brian Vickers (190.934).

Two significant mishaps occurred during the 110-minute practice.

First, David Ragan slid into the infield, with the splitter on his No. 34 catching in the grass, doing enough damage to the front end and undercarriage that the team will likely have to go to a backup car.

Another driver who will definitely have to go to a backup car is last week’s winner at Martinsville, Kurt Busch.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the practice session, Busch was coming down the backstretch when it appeared his left rear tire blew out, sending him careening hard and nearly head-on into the retaining wall.

Busch was uninjured, but his car sustained heavy damage.

What made the wreck even harder to take for Busch is he had been the fifth-fastest speed up to that point during the session, and had suffered the problem on the 51st practice lap he had made around the 1.5-mile track.

The slowest driver on the track was JJ Yeley, who was the only driver that failed to crack 180 mph, recording a best of just 179.480 mph in only two laps during the session.

Here’s the entire practice speed chart:

1 Jimmie Johnson 193.237 mph

2 Greg Biffle 192.055

3 Ryan Newman 191.564

4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 191.327

5 Brian Vickers 190.934

6 Jamie McMurray 190.950

7 Kurt Busch 190.590

8 Trevor Bayne 190.577

9 Paul Menard 190.564

10 Marcos Ambrose 190.308

 

11 Kevin Harvick 190.174

12 Kasey Kahne 190.034

13 Casey Mears 189.947

14 Tony Stewart 189.940

15 Denny Hamlin 189.720

16 Carl Edwards 189.553

17 Aric Almirola 189.467

18 Jeff Gordon 189.334

19 Austin Dillon 189.102

20 Kyle Busch 188.990

 

21 AJ Allmendinger 188.904

22 Clint Bowyer 188.785

23 Josh Wise 188.712

24 Dave Blaney 188.495

25 Michael McDowell 188.429

26 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 188.291

27 Danica Patrick 188.265

28 Martin Truex Jr. 188.147

29 Matt Kenseth 188.081

30 Joey Logano 187.624

 

31 Alex Bowman 187.441

32 Kyle Larson 187.279

33 Brad Keselowski 187.220

34 David Stremme 186.722

35 David Reutimann 186.458

36 David Ragan 186.303

37 David Gilliland 186.213

38 Joe Nemechek 185.727

39 Ryan Truex 185.134

40 Justin Allgaier 184.982

 

41 Landon Cassill 184.093

42 Travis Kvapil 183.836

43 Reed Sorenson 183.530

44 Michael Annett 183.505

45 Cole Whitt 183.380

46 Parker Kligerman 183.243

47 JJ Yeley 179.480

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”