Hendrick Motorsports’ recent test at New Hampshire Motor Speedway appears to be paying off so far.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was quickest in this morning’s first practice session at the Magic Mile. Johnson, who currently holds the top spot on the Chase Grid by virtue of his three wins, posted a lap of 135.313 mph to lead the 90-minute session.
Additionally, Johnson’s Hendrick teammate, Jeff Gordon, was third-quickest (135.164) in practice behind Johnson and Cup rookie Kyle Larson (135.212).
Larson’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, Jamie McMurray, and Kevin Harvick posted identical speeds of 135.131 mph to complete the Top 5.
In comments this morning, Johnson noted that Hendrick chose to test at New Hampshire earlier this summer because the team considered it to be their weakest Chase track.
NHMS will also host the second race of NASCAR’s 10-race playoff in September.
“It really was Chase-focused,” Johnson said of the decision. “I think there are multiple factors a team looks at in picking the tracks you go to [for testing]. If you [lock into the Chase] early, that helps your strategy and you can look more toward the end of the year.
“But something teams also look at is where we are the weakest as an organization.Where do the four crew chiefs and drivers get the most frustrated? For Chase-related race tracks, this is one of them for us.
“That’s why the decision was made as a group. All four drivers and crew chiefs agreed, ‘Yeah, let’s go do Loudon. We need to work there.'”
Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, defending race winner Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch made up Positions 6-10 in practice.
Qualifying for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 is set for 4:40 p.m. ET and that will be followed by two more Cup practices tomorrow (9-9:50 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m. ET).
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.