Clint Bowyer leads first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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Clint Bowyer popped the fastest lap in today’s first Sprint Cup practice session at Talladega Superspeedway, topping out early at 200.385 mph in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

Only two Chasers were among the Top 10 speeds in the first session, and none were within the Top 5. Bowyer’s lap was enough to eclipse Aric Almirola (200.268), defending GEICO 500 champion Jamie McMurray (200.117), Michael McDowell (199.971), and Travis Kvapil (199.883).

Kyle Larson was sixth-fastest, followed by Landon Cassill in seventh, Chaser Brad Keselowski in eighth (199.238), Kurt Busch in ninth, and another Chaser, Kyle Busch, in 10th (199.160).

McMurray also claimed the best 10-lap average speed in the session at 196.586 mph across Lap 3-12 of the 18 laps that he logged.

The other Chasers ran as follows: Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th, Matt Kenseth in 14th, Kasey Kahne in 16th, Ryan Newman in 24th, Denny Hamlin in 28th, Joey Logano in 31st, Jimmie Johnson in 32nd, Jeff Gordon in 33rd, Kevin Harvick in 37th, and Carl Edwards in 38th.

Logano and Harvick need not worry too much as they’re safely in the Eliminator Round already with recent wins (Logano at Kansas, Harvick last week at Charlotte). As for Johnson, one of several drivers that effectively need a win this weekend to stay alive in the Chase, his work in Practice 1 was largely outside the draft. His best lap of 32 in the session was at 195.748 mph.

Final practice for the Cup series will begin later this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega – Practice One Times

Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”