Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson pace NNS practices; Milka Duno seeks to become first Latina to qualify for a NASCAR event

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Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson topped Thursday afternoon’s pair of Nationwide Series practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Driving the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, Elliott was fastest in the first practice session with a top speed of 123.324 mph. He certainly worked for it, leading all drivers during the session with an almost race-like distance total of 106 laps.

It’s not totally surprising, though, as Elliott seeks to keep his current lead in the NNS standings a 10-point lead over teammate Regan Smith.

Kyle Busch, who wrecked late in Thursday morning’s Camping World Truck Series, finishing 24th and seeing his hopes of a weekend sweep of all three NASCAR touring series races at Bristol, was second-fastest in the first NNS practice at 122.898 mph.

Having won the last three NNS races at Bristol, the younger Busch brother will go for four-in-a-row in Friday’s Food City 300 (7:30 pm ET).

In a rarity, Brian Scott and Kevin Harvick tied for third-fastest speeds with identical marks of 122.178 mph.

Fifth-fastest was Ryan Blaney (122.084 mph).

Of note, former IndyCar driver Milka Duno (seen in above photo) recorded the 41st-fastest speed in the first session. A native of Venezuela, Duno is hoping to become the first Hispanic woman to qualify for a NASCAR national series event.

Duno will have to find more speed in qualifying Friday afternoon, as only 40 cars will make the field for the NNS race later that evening.

As for Thursday’s second practice session, Larson was nearly 2 mph faster than Elliott’s first practice best. Larson cranked off a best-speed of 125.313 mph.

Like Elliott in the first practice, Larson also logged considerable time on track, totaling 90 laps on the high-banked .533-mile short track.

Just like the first practice, Kyle Busch was second-fastest in the second practice, as well, with a best lap of 124.525 mph.

In addition to three straight, Busch has won seven NNS races in his last eight attempts at Bristol.

Brian Scott was third-fastest at 124.339 mph, followed by Blaney (124.242) and Elliott (124.050).

Just like in the first practice session, Elliott logged the most laps of any driver: 126.

Duno improved in the second practice session with a 36th-best speed of 118.598 mph.

A total of 44 cars took to the track in the final practice session.

Qualifying takes place Friday at 3:40 pm ET.

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”