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Erik Jones fastest in 1st of 2 Cup practices at Fontana; Harvick, Ragan hit wall

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NASCAR Cup rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the first of two practice sessions Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Jones drove his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to the top of the speed charts at the Fontana, California track with a best lap of 187.251, the only driver to exceed 187 mph.

Jones was followed by Chase Elliott (186.843), Ryan Newman (186.732), Jimmie Johnson (186.384) and Brad Keselowski (186.292).

There were two incidents of note during the session:

* With just over nine minutes remaining in the practice session, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hit hard into the outside retaining wall, sustaining damage on the right side.

However, the team chose to repair the damage rather than go to a backup car.

Prior to the incident, Harvick’s car was sixth-fastest (186.128 mph).

* In the final two minutes, David Ragan spun and impacted the Turn 3 wall. It appeared something came loose from under Ragan’s car before impact.

Given the amount of damage, Ragan will likely have to go to a backup car.

Click here for how Saturday’s first of two practice sessions played out:

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Kyle Larson fastest in opening Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway at 189.071 mph. He was followed by Denny Hamlin (188.462 mph), Kevin Harvick (188.344), Jamie McMurray (187.940) and Joey Logano (187.588).

Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson had to go to a backup car after losing control in Turn 4 and sliding into the infield grass. The front of his car dug into the ground and was damaged. That was the only incident in the session involving cars. The session was stopped briefly for an owl on the track.

Cup teams will qualify at 7:05 p.m. ET (4:05 p.m. Pacific)

Click here for results of Cup practice

 

Bristol again will treat track with compound to add grip; Martinsville won’t do so

Dustin Long
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After positive comments from drivers last August, Bristol Motor Speedway again will add grip to the bottom groove, Jerry Caldwell, the track’s general manager, told NBC Sports on Friday.

Track officials added a chemical compound on 18 inches of the bottom groove in the corners to help cars get through there quicker.

“I know what we did worked,’’ Caldwell said. “We liked what we saw, and the drivers all seemed to like it, the fans liked it, why not continue to do that?’’

The result was two-wide racing in August. The 20 lead changes in that Cup race ranked second for most lead changes at Bristol in the past eight races there. NASCAR stated that there were 2,454 green-flag passes in that race, ranking fourth at the track since the statistic was first kept in 2005.

Caldwell said the compound will be added to the track within the next 10 days. The track then will have a tire machine run through the lower groove to help provide more grip. The Xfinity Series races there April 22, and the Cup Series races April 23. Caldwell said the process is similar to what was done last before last year’s event.

One issue that arose last year was that the Camping World Truck Series teams were hesitant to use the bottom groove in the first practice session in August. They moved to the lower groove in the second session and times were quicker.

“We believe that there were a few things that were going on in August when we first put that on,’’ Caldwell said. “One, everyone was a bit unsure. You don’t have any confidence when you go down. I think that was part of the reason they stayed off of it. They wanted somebody else to try it first. The other is all of our races, good Lord willing, with the weather cooperating … we expect the track temperatures to be hotter during the day. The other is that the modifieds had run on that track and put rubber down on that lower portion with a different type of tire. We think that also had something to do with the fact that it felt slick when (Truck teams) first went down there. When you got that rubber off, it was more tacky.’’

Xfinity and Cup drivers had no issues when they got on the track a couple of days later. Drivers liked it so much that some Cup drivers requested that another coating of the compound, which is similar to what is used on a dragway to aid traction at the starting line, be applied before the Cup race. NASCAR and track officials did so.

Kevin Harvick suggested last year that Martinsville Speedway could be another track to treat the corners in a similar fashion to help the top groove, but it won’t happen for next weekend’s Cup and Camping World Truck Series races, Clay Campbell, track president told NBC Sports.

“It’s always been a one-groove racetrack,’’ Campbell said of the track that is celebrating its 70th anniversary. “Fans like that and that style of racing. That’s what makes this place what it is. I don’t want to want to take a chance on altering the way that the races are run here.’’

Campbell said the track tested a substance to aid traction last year “with mixed results.

“I think it depends on who you talk to as to whether it was a positive or a negative. In my view, the racing has never been bad here. You go back through history, it’s always been the same style of racing even though we’ve gone from asphalt to concrete in the corners. If something it not broken, I don’t know why we need to fix it.’’

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NASCAR America: Comparing severity of Harvick, Keselowski and Allmendinger penalties

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NASCAR handed out two crew chief suspensions in the Cup this week following the race weekend in Phoenix while another was upheld on appeal.

Brad Keselowski‘s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was suspended three races and the team was docked 35 driver and owners points for failing weights and measurements in post-race inspection.

Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, Rodney Childers, was suspended one race and the team docked 10 driver and owner points for an unapproved track bar slider assembly.

The penalties for AJ Allmendinger‘s team, including the suspension of crew chief Randall Burnett, was upheld after an appeal.

The NASCAR America crew debates which team is hurt the most by their penalties.

 

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET: Auto Club Speedway preview, iRacing simulator

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and previews this weekend’s action at Auto Club Speedway.

Krista Voda hosts with Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. Dale Jarrett joins them from Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

  • My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows continues as we visit Central Arizona Speedway in Casa Grande. We’ll also discuss some fun facts about the Grand Canyon State.
  • 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick has been on a roller coaster ride through four races this season. Now, he heads home to California where he looks to grab his first win of the season. We’ll take a trip to Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield and examine his Racing Roots.
  • Kligerman jumps in the simulator to see what challenges the drivers will face this weekend in Fontana.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.