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Ty Dillon fastest in first Cup practice at Talladega

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With a speed of 202.959 mph, Ty Dillon posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Geico 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch tied for P2 on the chart to the 1/1,000th of a second with a speed of 202.680 mph.

Teammate Denny Hamlin (202.671 mph) posted the fourth fastest time with Erik Jones (202.564) seventh. Affiliated driver Martin Truex Jr. (202.628) was also part of the Gibbs drafting pack and he landed sixth on the chart.

Ryan Newman rounded out the top five with a speed of 202.637 mph.

Rookie of the Year Darrell Wallace, Jr. (199.754) and William Byron (199.729) landed 11th and 12th on the chart respectively.

Ross Chastain, Gray Gaulding, Timmy Hill and Cole Whitt did not participate in this practice.

Denny Hamlin posted the quickest 10-lap average with a speed of 198.109 mph.

Kyle Busch was second-quick at 197.977 mph.

Final practice for the Cup series will be at 1:35 p.m. ET; qualification will be Saturday at 12:05 p.m. and will air on Fox.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Jamie McMurray leads group of drivers with best finish of season at Texas

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Jamie McMurray was relevant for the first time this season.

After failing to finish better than 16th through the first six races, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver powered his No. 1 Chevrolet to a third-place finish in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was his best finish since placing second in the spring race at Talladega last year.

The result came a day after he spun in the Xfinity race at the 1.5-mile track and managed to finish seventh.

“The track is pretty treacherous when you get out of the groove,” McMurray said. “Obviously, I spun out yesterday in the Xfinity race, so I learned not to go up there, but it was a really good day for our Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet. We really struggled this year and especially on the 1.5-mile (tracks). I’m really proud of everybody for the car that we had and to be able to put the whole race together. The off-weekend (last weekend) for us couldn’t have come at a better time.”

McMurray’s result is his first top 10 since he finished sixth at Phoenix last November.

Attrition and multiple wrecks helped McMurray and many of the drivers who finished in the top 20.

Erik Jones placed fourth for his first top five of the season and his fourth top 10.

Jones’ No. 20 Toyota led 64 laps, his most on an intermediate track.

“I don’t know that we really had enough for Kyle (Busch) or Kevin (Harvick),” Jones said. “They were really fast, but overall I thought we were a third-place car. Jamie had some tires here at the end, and we couldn’t really do much with them. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to this weekend. It was kind of a – kind of a downer coming into Sunday, but I knew we had a good race car and you know we showed that today. A big step up.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. benefited from pit strategy to finish eighth for his first top 10 since the Daytona 500.

William Byron, after starting from the rear due to an engine change, earned his first career Cup top 10, placing 10th. He is the last Hendrick Motorsports driver to earn a top 10 this season.

“It was really good for us to get a top 10,” Byron said. “Once the sun came out we weren’t quite as good, I don’t think, but (for) starting in the back this was definitely a good day for us. We had a lot of adversity and kept having to go to the back. … It obviously takes a lot of things to happen. We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted to. We were really good in practice, but I think some of our weaknesses showed up when the rubber laid down on the track a little bit on the bottom groove. Overall it was a pretty good day and we can definitely build on this.”

Other notable finishes:

Trevor Bayne, 12th: Best finish since the Daytona 500 (13th).

Ty Dillon, 13th: First top 15 of year, first since Phoenix last November.

Michael McDowell, 14th: Best finish since Daytona 500 (ninth).

Matt DiBenedetto, 16th: Best result since eighth-place finish in last season’s Brickyard 400 (eighth).

Kasey Kahne, 17th: Best finish with Leavine Family Racing.

Ross Chastain, 18th: Career-best Cup finish in eighth start.

Cole Whitt, 19th: Best finish since placing 12th in last season’s Brickyard 400.

—  Gray Gaulding, 20th: Second 20th-place finish of year (Daytona)

Landon Cassill, 21st: Best finish since placing 20th at Chicagoland last September; Ties best finish for StarCom Racing in nine races (Daytona).

Starting lineup for the Auto Club 400

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Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch will start on the front row of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

They will be followed by Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano.

Kevin Harvick will start his attempt at a fourth consecutive win from 10th.

Thirteen drivers will start from the rear after their cars failed qualifying inspection.

Click here for the starting lineup

13 Cup teams fail inspection, do not make qualifying attempt

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13 Cup teams did not make a qualifying attempt for the Auto Club 400 after they failed to pass inspection Friday.

Those teams include all four Hendrick Motorsports cars (Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman), Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Daniel Suarez, Timmy Hill, Cole Whitt, Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger.

All 13 cars will start from the rear Sunday.

“The first time through there were a lot of failures at all the stations, it was basically kind of split between chassis, weights and measures and the body scan, ” Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition told Fox Sports 1. “The second time through it seems like most of it centered around the actual body scan itself, which honestly this is the most aerodynamic track we’ve gone to, so kind of no surprise that they would be pushing the limits here more than some of the other places.”

Jeff Andrews, Hendrick Motorsports’ competition director, said the issues on the four Hendrick cars were “similar” in the area of the deck lid.

“We’ve got to go back, we need to talk internally and talk with NASCAR,” Andrews told FS1. “We felt like we were making changes in the area affected and we were not seeing the results when we went back through.”

Typically, teams must start a race on the tires they used in qualifying.

NASCAR announced late Friday night it would allow all teams that made a qualifying lap to purchase a new set of sticker tires to start Sunday’s race one. They must return their scuff tires to Goodyear.

Corey LaJoie, Cole Whitt to drive No. 72 for TriStar Motorsports in Cup

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TriStar Motorsports will field its No. 72 Chevrolet in the Cup Series again this year with Corey LaJoie and Cole Whitt sharing seat time in the car, the team announced Tuesday.

LaJoie, who drove for BK Racing last year, will be the primary driver. Whitt, who piloted the No. 72 full-time last season, has elected to scale back his schedule to shift his focus.

The team has leased a charter from Front Row Motorsports, ensuring the No. 72 a starting spot in all 36 points races.

LaJoie, 26, is the son of two-time Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie. He will drive the No. 72 in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.  He enters the season with 34 Cup starts and a best finish of 11th in last year’s July race at Daytona.

“It’s such a great opportunity to work with TriStar Motorsports,” LaJoie said in a press release. “I hope to use the learning experiences from my 2017 rookie season and work hard for some great finishes this year. It’s my goal to continue building a successful team with (team owner) Bryan (Smith), while honoring the legacy his dad, Mark, left behind.”

Whitt, 26, has 148 Cup starts since 2011. Last year was his third full-time season in the series. His best finish last season was 12th in the Brickyard 400.

“I want to thank TriStar and the Smith family for allowing me to do something I feel is the right decision for me and my family,” Whitt said in a press release. “I am excited and a little nervous to say that I will be racing a limited schedule this year. I am looking forward to taking the next step in my life and trying to spend most of my time with my family. Stepping back from racing is a hard choice but I strongly believe this is the right path. TriStar has been an amazing blessing to me and my family and I look forward to what the future holds for both of us.”

The season will mark the team’s first full year since the death of former owner Mark Smith in July. His son Bryan Smith took over control of the team, which has competed in NASCAR since 1989.

“We are taking a different approach with our competitive platform for 2018 by utilizing two drivers,” Bryan Smith said in a press release. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and accommodates the goals of both drivers as well as the team. We are more than pleased with Cole’s efforts in 2017 and are extremely glad to have him back this season. He has been an integral part of our return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and we appreciate his contributions to our team. We are equally as pleased to add Corey to our driver roster. His attitude, desire and ability are a welcomed addition and we feel he will be a great fit. We feel both drivers embody the core elements of who we are as a team and are confident each will contribute to the betterment of our program.”

TriStar will announce sponsorship and its plans in the Xfinity Series at a later date.