BRISTOL, Tenn. — After a delay of 3½ hours for track drying following morning rain showers, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hit Bristol Motor Speedway for practice on Friday afternoon.
Erik Jones did not waste any time showing the way, posting the fastest lap at 127.843 miles per hour in his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.
Rounding out the top five on the speed chart for Friday’s lone practice were Kyle Busch (127.090 mph), Ryan Blaney (126.989 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (126.964 mph) and Matt Kenseth (126.704 mph).
With more rain in the forecast that could wash out Saturday’s two scheduled practices, Friday’s session took on more importance than normal.
“I’m betting we’ll get practice today and then maybe that will be it until the race,” Danica Patrick said prior to Friday’s session. “I think we’ll just work on our race car and maybe running the bottom will be a little bit more important. … The effort is always the same. You try and go as fast as you can every single lap, no matter where you’re running.”
Patrick struggled to go as fast as most of the rest of the field on Friday, when he fastest lap time of 120.060 mph was nearly 8 miles an hour slower than Jones and ranked 38th of the 39 cars that made it onto the .526-mile short track.
She also appeared to have an issue trying to get to pit road from the track at one point, forcing Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford up the track far enough that Logano brushed the outside wall, suffering minor damage.
“There were two of the Fords coming in. The 10 (of Patrick) was trying to let the 4 (of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick) go and then I thought the 10 was letting me go and then she went into the corner and that put me in the outside lane, which I didn’t think was a big deal,” Logano said.
“It’s just the track was so dirty. With all the marbles up there it was like you popped a tire. It just went straight to the wall. It’s amazing how quick it did that. Unfortunately, we got a little damage to our AutoTrader Fusion, but it’s nothing that’s not fixable. We’ll be able to fix that.”
Drivers also spent practice trying to get used to running the bottom groove, where NASCAR had applied VHT — an adhesive material that helps the concrete surface of the Bristol track gain more grip. It was tricky and led to at least one driver, Chase Elliott, misjudging it and spinning — although he kept his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet off the wall.
“I was experimenting with the bottom lane, and I was trying to see just how close to the apron I could get to find some more grip,” Elliott said. “Some of the VHT area was getting picked up, and I was just trying to get a little lower. I got too much of hte apron — and so that’s what happens when you get too much of the apron. Don’t do that.”
With qualifying cancelled because of a questionable weather forecast, the starting lineup for Sunday’s Food City 500 was set by owner points. Elliott, who is second in points, will start alongside pole-sitter Kyle Larson, the points leader, on the front row.
Elliott said he treated Friday’s practice as if it would be the last one he would get, based on the gloomy weather forecast for Saturday.
“I definitely treated it as if it were our last shot to run in race trim,” Elliott said. “For us, it’s great to start second. But I also know if you don’t have your car driving correctly, you can leave the second position and head south pretty quick. So I think it’s pretty important to have it driving like you want in a race-trim situation.”
See below for complete results from Friday’s practice.