NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 Practice #1: Toyota Flashes New Engine Package
The early story following NASCAR Sprint Cup Practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is the re-emergence of the Toyota Camry. After struggling all season, except at short tracks (Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond), Toyota finally caved in and brought a new engine package to the forefront at Kansas Motor Speedway (another 1.5 mile track — like Charlotte). At Kansas, all of the main Toyota Camry racecars performed well. Matt Kenseth took home 6th place in his DeWalt Tools #20 machine, Carl Edwards finished 20th (qualified 5th) in his #19 Subway Toyota, and Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones (driving in his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race) finished at the very back — however both were racing at the front throughout the race, and ended up finishing where they did due to accidents. Both qualified in the Top 15.
The improvements from Toyota continued into All-Star Race Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Denny Hamlin took his #11 FedEx car to victory lane, earning him a cool $1-million top prize. Kenseth took home 5th place and Kyle Busch took his #18 MnM’s machine to a sixth place finish. For Busch, All-Star Weekend was the first time he’d been in a race car since his devastating accident on the opening weekend of the 2015 season. Busch slammed hard into the inside wall (no safer barrier) at Daytona in the Xfinity Series Alert Today Florida 300 during a late race crash. Busch suffered multiple leg injuries, including a compound fracture in his right leg. Kyle was actually one of the fastest cars in practice, qualifying and during the race during All-Star Weekend, and he’ll only improve as he gains more seat time this year en-route to recovery.
Late in practice, Carl Edwards took the top spot away from Jimmie Johnson‘s #48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, Other Toyota drivers, including David Ragan and his #55 Aaron’s car (driving for Michael Waltrip Racing) cranked out the 5th fastest time in practice.
This was just the first practice and the vast majority of the field were simply doing mock qualifying runs, which doesn’t give us a whole lot of data that we can use to our advantage for DFS purposes, since most lap times were done on new tires. All teams are given five sets of fresh Goodyear “sticker” (new) tires for first practice and for qualifying. The teams that ran the most laps on any one of tires include:
Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard
Larson, an impressive second year driver for Chip Ganassi Racing’s #42 Target sponsored Chevrolet, actually was laying down multi-lap runs throughout the day. He got progressively better on each run, initially running the 35th fastest lap time in a seven-lap session early on — with the key being a very miniscule three-one-tenths of a second dropoff between his first and last lap in that session. Following that little seven lap run, he went to the garage and tweaked a few things — coming back out with a much improved time and once again very small differentials between lap times throughout his practice runs on each individual set of tires. Larson ended up with the 8th fastest practice time — he’ll be a driver to watch during qualifying and Final Practice on Saturday.
We will learn significantly more information about what each driver is working with following the Final practice session on Saturday, when most drivers will be running mock race practice sessions (meaning long runs). This will give us the information about which teams/drivers/cars are best on older tires — which is the edge we need come race day.