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Xfinity practice report from Fontana

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Justin Allgaier wrapped up the second and final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway with the top speed (178.059 mph).

Tyler Reddick was second fastest (177.139), followed by Christopher Bell (176.956), Kyle Busch (176.670) and Noah Gragson (176.432).

Sixth through 10th were Ryan Preece (176.280), Cole Custer (176.061), Chase Briscoe (175.794), John Hunter Nemechek (175.640) and Brandon Jones (175.200).

A total of 34 drivers took to the track in the session.

Qualifying will take place Saturday at 1:10 p.m. ET.

A few hours later, the Production Alliance Group 300 race (150 laps/300 miles) will take the green flag at 5 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

FIRST PRACTICE:

Cole Custer was fastest in the first of two Xfinity Series practices Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

The Stewart Haas Racing driver roared around the 2-mile high speed oval in his Ford Mustang at 177.039 mph, the only driver to exceed 177 mph.

Christopher Bell was second fastest (176.882 mph), followed by the man who is getting the most attention this weekend, Kyle Busch (176.350 mph), who is seeking to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to reach 200 wins in a career.

Busch comes into this weekend with 199 career NASCAR wins: 52 in Cup, 53 in Trucks and 94 in Xfinity. He can reach 200 with a win in Saturday’s Xfinity race or in Sunday’s Cup event.

Tyler Reddick was fourth fastest in the session (175.970 mph), leading a surge of five Chevy drivers in a row, followed by Justin Allgaier in fifth (175.833), Noah Gragson (175.653), Jeremy Clements (174.834) and John Hunter Nemechek (174.478).

Rounding out the top 10 were Austin Cindric (174.338 mph) and Ryan Preece (174.350).

The final Xfinity practice will take place later this afternoon from 4:35 to 5:25 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full Xfinity practice speed chart.

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Xfinity practice report from Phoenix

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Austin Cindric topped Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Much like his Team Penske counterparts Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, who were 1-2 in Friday’s sole Cup practice, Cindric put the Penske camp atop the second Xfinity practice with a speed of 132.129 mph.

Christopher Bell was second-fastest (131.791 mph), followed by John Hunter Nemechek (131.560), Ryan Truex (131.473) and Kyle Busch (131.430), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day.

Sixth through 10th were Cole Custer (131.043 mph), Tyler Reddick (130.942), Justin Allgaier (130.890), Noah Gragson (130.686) and Justin Haley (130.345).

There was one incident in the session when Ronnie Bassett Jr.’s Chevrolet Camaro hit the Turn 3 wall hard with about three minutes remaining, ending the session early. Bassett is slated to make his Xfinity Series race debut on Saturday. It’s unclear if his team will be able to repair the damage.

Xfinity teams will qualify (multi-vehicle, three rounds) Saturday at 12:40 p.m. ET, with the iK9 Service Dog 200 race later that afternoon at 4 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

FIRST PRACTICE SESSION:

Kyle Busch was fastest in the first of two Xfinity Series practices Friday at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Busch topped the 29-driver field with a speed of 131.921 mph. The Las Vegas native will be seeking his 94th career Xfinity win in Saturday’s iK9 Service Dog 200. He’s also going for his second win in a row, having won last week’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas.

Christopher Bell was second-fastest (131.579 mph), followed by Cole Custer (131.148), Austin Cindric (131.133) and John Hunter Nemechek (131.043).

Sixth through 10th were Ryan Truex (130.890), Tyler Reddick (130.776), Noah Gragson (130.615), Justin Allgaier (130.572) and Justin Haley (130.506).

The second and final Xfinity practice session will run later this afternoon from 5:05 to 5:55 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Justin Haley, Chase Briscoe fastest in Xfinity practices at Daytona

Justin Haley was fastest in the 2nd Xfinity practice Friday. Photo: Getty Images
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Justin Haley (189.581 mph) was fastest in the second and final Xfinity Series practice Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.

Noah Gragson was second-fastest (188.743 mph), followed by Ryan Sieg (188.292), David Starr (187.141) and Jeremy Clements (186.761).

Chase Briscoe, who was fastest in the first session, was ninth-fastest (186.637 mph) in the second practice.

Only 22 drivers took part in the second session.

Click here for full results of the second practice.

In the first Xfinity practice earlier in the afternoon, Briscoe turned in the fastest speed (196.455 mph), followed by defending Daytona Xfinity race winner Tyler Reddick (196.344 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (196.202), Ross Chastain (196.002) and Haley (195.135).

Click here for full results of the first practice.

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JR Motorsports, GMS Racing partner on driver development program

Photo: Dustin Long
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JR Motorsports and GMS Racing have established Drivers Edge Development, a program presented by Chevrolet and aimed at grooming the next generation of drivers through a tiered pipeline coupled with comprehensive off-track education.

The program will give drivers the opportunity to race in five types of development series with JRM or GMS-fielded entries. The program also provides added training to enhance professional growth off the track.

Although mainly performance-based, there are no set criteria for selection into the program.

The six drivers in the program this year are:

Noah Gragson (Xfinity driver at JR Motorsports)

John Hunter Nemechek (Xfinity driver at GMS Racing)

Zane Smith (Xfinity driver at JR Motorsports in eight races)

Sheldon Creed (Truck driver at GMS Racing)

Sam Mayer (Truck/ARCA/K&N driver for GMS Racing and Late Model driver for JR Motorsports)

Adam Lemke (Late Model driver for JR Motorsports)

The relationship between JR Motorsports and GMS Racing is not new. They have a technical alliance in the Xfinity Series.