Unheralded rookie Tommy Joe Martins fastest in second Nationwide practice at ‘Dega; Jeffrey Earnhardt second-fast

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Nationwide Series rookie Tommy Joe Martins will have one heck of a story to tell his children and grandchildren one day.

The Como, Miss., native, who drives for his family’s Martins Motorsports, will be able to regale his heirs with the tale of how for at least one practice session, he was the fastest NNS driver at one of the most challenging tracks there is, Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Martins covered the 2.66-mile track, NASCAR’s largest oval, at a field-best 185.891 mph, the fastest speed in the second of Thursday’s two Nationwide Series practice sessions for Saturday’s Aaron’s 312.

Another surprise at second-fastest was Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, who was just .014 behind Martins at 185.877 mph.

Third-fastest was Kyle Larson (185.823 mph), followed by Trevor Bayne (185.226), who was fastest in Thursday’s first practice session (and at more than 5 mph faster at 190.378 mph).

Fifth-fastest was Brendan Gaughan (185.136), while sixth- through 10th-fastest were Ryan Sieg (185.122), Brian Scott (185.097), John Wes Townley (184.455), Dakoda Armstrong (184.242) and Josh Wise (183.561).

One of the other big surprises – actually, more of a shock, given he’s already won two NNS races this season – was series points leader Chase Elliott, who was just 26th-fastest at just 175.748 mph. In the earlier afternoon practice session, Elliott was 19th-fastest at 184.573 mph.

Only 29 drivers took to the track for the latter afternoon practice (compared to 36 drivers who practiced in the earlier afternoon session).

Thus far this season, Martins has qualified and raced in five of the first eight NNS races, with his best finish being 30th three weeks ago at Darlington. It was also the only race he’s finished this season, albeit six laps behind the leaders.

Martins, who is ranked 30th in the NNS standings coming into Saturday’s race, has recorded DNFs in the four other races he’s competed in this season.

He did not enter the season-opening event at Daytona and withdrew from both Phoenix and Bristol.

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Wickens undergoes successful surgery

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Just days after successfully piloting an Acura NSX around Toronto’s Exhibition Palace street course, Robert Wickens has undergone a successful surgery operation to remove hardware from his leg after a previous infection had returned, the 30-year-old Canadian revealed on social media Wednesday.

“Spinal Cord injury has such highs and lows,” Wickens said in an Instagram post prior to surgery. “One day I’m in the NSX driving the hand controlled car, and the next day I’m getting ready for surgery. Life is so unpredictable!”

Fortunately, the surgery went well for Wickens, as he later announced that his surgery had no complications. Wickens will now start six weeks of IV antibiotics before he returns to a full rehab program.

“One piece (there’s a lot) of the hardware had an infected screw,” Wickens wrote. “All hardware in my leg was removed.”

Wickens is currently recovering from spinal fracture sustained in an IndyCar crash at Pocono Raceway last August. Since his crash and diagnosis, Wickens has openly documented his recovery process through social media.

Wickens returned to the INDYCAR paddock for the first time since his accident at the season-opener in St. Petersburg in March, and his laps behind the wheel in Toronto last weekend marked the first time he had driven in public since his accident.

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