Ryan Blaney had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 130.937 mph. He was followed by Harvick (130.867 mph) and Truex (130.811).
Ty Dillon went to a backup car after contact with the wall during the session.
Joey Logano was among 14 drivers who were penalized practice time. He was the only driver forced to miss the entire session because his car failed to pass qualifying inspection Friday. The team failed to get through four times and never made a qualifying attempt.
LOUDON, New Hampshire — Strip away the debate, peel away the nuances and look not at NASCAR but yourself.
Can you enjoy watching someone smoke the tires after winning a race, or must you see tires blow, thus damage the car and possibly hinder officials in inspecting the vehicle afterward?
Denny Hamlin knows how many of you will vote. He’s seen your reaction when he’s done burnouts down the frontstretch like he did in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — site of Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He blew a left rear tire in that celebration.
“The moment that the tires pop … that’s the moment the fans get excited,’’ Hamlin told NBC Sports after qualifying Friday.
Is that what it comes down to for you? After half a day at the track and three hours of racing, one of the key moments of your trip is seeing someone blow a tire in their victory burnout?
If it’s that important to see those tires blow, then are you OK that it could allow a car to skate the rules?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR should regulate those celebrations because they’re as nefarious as they are exhilarating.
“I’ve been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to say, “Look we’d just rather you guys not blow the tires out,’ ‘’ Earnhardt said Friday. “They talk about not being the fun police. Being the fun police is not on the radar of their damn problems. I don’t think they need to worry about it. That’s a cop-out in my opinion.’’
“I just feel like that they should step up,’’ Earnhardt said. “They’re the governing body. It’s obvious (blowing tires) is done intentionally.’’
“(Elliott’s team) is going to get a suspended crew chief and car chief for this tape mess and the winner of the race (Martin Truex Jr.) was riding into victory lane with a damn rear tore all to hell,’’ Earnhardt said of last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway “Can’t even tech it. I love Martin. It ain’t about Martin. Every guy out there has done it.’’
Truex says he did nothing wrong when he blew a rear tire in his celebration at Chicagoland. He was overjoyed after coming back from a speeding penalty and having to pit a second time under caution for loose lug nuts to win. So, yes he had a robust celebration.
“It was definitely not something that was on purpose or somebody told me to do it,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was just caught up in the moment. The burnout was pretty nice. Maybe it went on a little longer than it should have. In that case, there’s no rules against it. Nobody said you can’t do it. If there was obviously a rule against it, then we would probably not do it anymore.
“People are just reaching for unicorns at this point and trying to figure out why we’re so fast. They can say what they want. We’ve not had any inspection issues (after a race). We’ve been to the R&D Center probably more than everybody this year.’’
Section 184.108.40.206.c of the Cup Rule Book allows burnouts, stating: “The first place vehicle may engage in appropriate celebratory activity (such as a victory lap, burn-out(s) or donuts) prior to reporting to victory lane.’’
The key word in that rule is “appropriate.”
This isn’t the first time victory celebrations have been debated. It has become as regular as shorter days and birds flying south in autumn.
“We hear the same thing from them all the time,’’ Hamlin said, recalling the last time NASCAR commented publicly on the issue. “Until they really do something, people are going to do the same things.’’
Still, shouldn’t there be a line on what is allowed and what isn’t? Why give drivers the chance to damage their car before going through inspection after the race?
If NASCAR penalizes teams for celebrations, it likely will take away some of the emotion the sport wants to display, particularly at the end of the race. Few want to see a winner treat a victory nonchalantly. Such achievements are difficult and are worth reveling in.
“The hard part of judging that is that sometimes, when it’s a big enough win and you’re celebrating the heck out of it, it’s hard to make that call between a celebration and trying to get through tech after the race,’’ Austin Dillon told NBC Sports.
Dillon, who scored his first Cup win this year, isn’t sure he likes the idea of NASCAR constraining a celebration.
“I’ve been really excited and blew the tires off it when I won my first couple of races,’’ he said. “When you win more than that, the issue with me is I want to take that clean car and race it again.
“Blowing the wheel tubs out of it, I’m probably going to do it if everybody else is doing it, if it helps getting through tech. The bad part about it is it kind of looks bad on the money side of things when you’re tearing cars up and they’re crying we don’t have any money.’’
By not doing anything, is NASCAR inhibiting its ability to properly inspect cars afterward, assuring a level playing field among competitors?
“It’s not like ‘Oh, my bad, blew my tire.’ I mean it’s deliberate,’’ Earnhardt said. “So, it tells me there’s some purpose behind it. It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody’s nose. It doesn’t make sense.”
Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.
Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.
Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.
Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.
Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.
Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured.
Even if Johnson doesn’t win another Cup title, he will live in NASCAR history with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time champions. No active driver has more than one Cup crown, so Johnson will not be topped anytime soon, if ever.
“Thanks for blowing my mind,’’ he said.
Some day, a driver might wear a helmet that pays tribute to the future Hall of Famer, just as Johnson did last year in Homestead, honoring Petty and Earnhardt before winning the championship. Johnson saluted Cale Yarborough with a special helmet at Dover this season when he was one win short of tying his hero. Johnson won that race for career victory No. 83.
That was June 4.
The sport has moved forward as Johnson has fallen behind heading into today’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Since Johnson’s last win, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement was named, two drivers announced that their wives were pregnant and controversies erupted over merchandise sales, one team suspending pit crew members for another team and a wayward ambulance.
If ever there was a year to doubt Johnson’s title hopes, this would seem to be it.
Of course, it’s become cliché to note Johnson’s summer slump, people doubting him entering the playoffs and then Johnson raising the championship trophy after the season finale.
Should he lift the Monster Energy Cup over his head in November, it will be quite a triumph in more than one way. The 3-foot tall trophy weighs nearly 70 pounds — twice as much as the NHL’s Stanley Cup and 10 times as much as the NFL’s Vince Lombardi Trophy that goes to the Super Bowl winner.
But if Johnson raises the trophy, it also will mean he will have defeated 15 other drivers and truly stand alone in the sport.
June 4: Jimmie Johnson wins at Dover; Kyle Busch’s crew chief, front tire changer and tire carrier face a four-race suspension after a wheel comes off Busch’s car after a pit stop.
June 18: Joey and Brittany Logano announce that she is expecting the couple’s first child.
Johnson’s last Cup victory came 106 days ago.
To put it into perspective, Christmas is 100 days away.
Johnson’s average finish in the 10 races before the playoffs is 20.3 — his worst total since 2011 but not far off what he’s done in recent years.
His average finish in the 10 races before last year’s playoffs was 19.5 and he won the title. His average for those races was 18.3 before he won the 2013 title.
It’s not just been him. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also have not had speed this summer. Elliott, Kahne and Johnson — Hendrick’s drivers in the playoffs — have combined for four top-10 finishes in the six races since Indianapolis.
“It’s been frustrating,’’ said Johnson, who starts today’s race 14th.
His wins early helped offset any frustration. Johnson’s three wins came in the season’s first 13 races.
“We won early, had good speed early, and in the back of my mind I was thinking that I hoped we were not peaking too soon,’’ Johnson said. “Then the summer happens. As you are in the middle of summer, the silver lining is that we are going to get through this eventually and come out on top. Maybe it is good to peak early, have the summer kind of challenge you, and then peak again.’’
July 3:Kyle Larson tweets about his dissatisfaction with what drivers make on merchandise sales, triggering a Twitter debate on the subject.
July 7:Matt Kenseth says he won’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing after this season
Johnson has made NASCAR’s postseason each of the 14 years and has won at least one playoff race every year entering this year.
He looks forward to the playoffs because the tracks match his style.
Johnson is the all-time victory leader at Dover with 11. He’s tied for third all-time in wins at Martinsville with nine after his victory there in last year’s playoffs that advanced him to the championship finale in Miami. He is the all-time wins leader at Texas with six, which includes four consecutive victories in the playoff race there before Carl Edwards broke Johnson’s streak last year.
The one oddity to his playoff success is that Chicagoland Speedway is one of three tracks he’s never won at in Cup. This track, though, was the site of his lone Xfinity win. He scored a fuel-mileage victory in the track’s inaugural Xfinity race in 2001.
Even though he has not scored a Cup win at Chicagoland, Johnson notes that “the stats do show that we have a great average finish at Chicago.’’
July 11: Kevin and DeLana Harvick announce they are expecting their second child.
July 20:Alex Bowman selected to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 in 2018.
Kevin Harvick has a theory to Johnson’s playoff success after forgettable summers.
“Sometimes you get behind and you physically can’t prepare vehicles and make all the upgrades to the vehicles in time to put yourself in a position to run well from when you stopped running well, and it can happen instantly,’’ Harvick said. “Look at (Joey Logano). They had a scenario that they built the car around, whatever that scenario was, they built their car around and NASCAR didn’t like it, so they changed the rules and from that point on they were in a rebuilding phase to try to get themselves in position.
“What you hope is you’re in a position like (Johnson) was, where they won a couple races and I think they were in a similar position where they had some rules change and they had some things happen and couldn’t run the stuff that they were running anymore. From that point, you have to start the rebuilding process and it’s a massive ship to turn around.’’
So, don’t read too much into those summer struggles by Johnson is what Harvick suggests.
It’s a good theory and Johnson’s success in past years, including last year when the team struggled in the summer before winning the title, shows what can happen.
July 27: Joe Gibbs Racing suspends two of its pit crew members who work for Furniture Row Racing for an incident on pit road with Kyle Busch’s crew chief at Indianapolis. JGR later cedes control of such employees to Furniture Row Racing.
Aug. 8: Kevin Harvick says on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of success stunted NASCAR’s growth.
A dominating regular season has put Martin Truex Jr. far enough ahead with playoff points that he should advance deep into the postseason and is a favorite to race for the title in Miami.
Despite his domination — four wins, 18 stage victories and a series-high 1,646 laps led — Truex is not discounting Johnson’s title hopes even with the reigning champ’s summer slumber.
“I don’t think our guard is down when it comes to any team, let alone them,’’ Truex said. “You have to look at them, what they’ve done, know they’re going to be around and they’re going to be tough.”
He’s not alone.
Kyle Busch, also a favorite to be racing for the title in Miami, won’t overlook Johnson and his team.
“I’ve had friends over the years that have worked for Hendrick and have worked with the 48 team,’’ Busch said. “They always say, ‘Man, when Chicago comes … Jimmie’s got a switch that he flips on, and it’s on.’ So we’ll see if he can do it again. He has before, right? So don’t count him out.”
Aug. 19: Kyle Busch wins the Cup race at Bristol to compete a sweep of the Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup races there that weekend. It’s the second time he’s accomplished that feat.
Sept. 9: A wayward ambulance at Richmond briefly puts Matt Kenseth’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, one of a series of incidents that raised questions about NASCAR’s officiating.
Jimmie Johnson turns 42 today and while he’s not ready for retirement, he knows he’s moving closer to the end of his career and the end of his pursuit of eight titles. Or nine. Or 10.
“I am here for reasons of being successful,’’ Johnson said. “ Winning races and winning championships. So, every year that I extend and have agreed to, I am all in and here for one reason. So that is more of it than thinking I might only have four chances left the way the contract lays out. It’s more about knowing what I can give and how demanding the sport is. And knowing what I can sign up for and really giving it 100 percent.”