Fontana, Calif – Chase Elliott posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, but a scrape with the outside retaining wall early in the session left his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet team with work to do.
Elliott posted his best speed at 187.480 mph before making contact with the wall just 10 minutes into the final session. He cited a parts failure on the left-front corner of the car that his crew was investigating ahead of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“We don’t really know why it did,” Elliott told FS1. “It was nothing fancy or anything we were doing, it’s just something that needs to be together to go. We’ll look into why. I don’t know if it’s just the roughness of the race track that bounced it loose or something like that, but I hate it. I was really happy with the NAPA Chevy throughout that run. I thought we were close, maybe needed a tick more initially in a run.
“I thought it was decent, so I was pleased with that. Unfortunately, this now puts us behind and we’ll have to go to work and hopefully try to get it tuned back up. It’s hurt pretty good.”
The 21-year-old driver indicated that his crew was working to hopefully avoid going to a reserve car. Elliott is scheduled to start 13th in Sunday’s 400-miler.
“We’re going to try to fix this one,” Elliott told FS1. “I mean, we’d love to keep our primary. … We would love to keep this car. I don’t know if we can or not, but like I said, it definitely puts us in a hole. I know they’ll work hard and try to get it tuned up as best we can for tomorrow.”
Martin Truex Jr. posted the second-fastest lap (187.378 mph) in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota. Ryan Blaney was third-fastest in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford, with Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Erik Jones — Truex’s Furniture Row teammate — fourth-best in the No. 77 Toyota.
Coors Light Pole Award winner Kyle Larson was fifth-fastest in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet. He drove away from a slight brush with the wall shortly after Elliott’s incident.
Kyle Busch, a three-time Auto Club winner, was involved in a solo spin at the 34-minute mark of the 50-minute session, avoiding contact with the wall or other cars. He limped his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota back to the garage. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford and Kurt Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford were also among several cars to brush the wall during Saturday’s final tune-up.
“No, I think I was above the seam by the time the car got loose,” Busch told FS1. “It over-rotated on me. I tried getting in the throttle and getting it to rotate a little bit and it just kept going too far. Spun it out on exit there, and unfortunately just didn’t keep all the air in the tires in order to be able to drive it back and not damage the car a little bit more than we already did. Not too bad.
“We’re just missing it a little bit. There’s just something that we can’t get right on (corner) entry this weekend and we’ve been trying to work on that, and it’s kind of messing up the rest of the corner for us.”
Kevin Harvick, who made contact with the wall in Saturday’s earlier practice, returned for the final session and posted the eighth-best lap (185.706 mph) in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford.
Erik Jones topped Saturday’s opening practice session at Auto Club Speedway ahead of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the fifth race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Jones posted a lap of 187.251 mph in the Furniture Row Racing No. 77 Toyota to pace the 55-minute session. He was also fastest in the category of consecutive 10-lap averages. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate will start 14th in Sunday’s 400-miler, the last of three races in the NASCAR Goes West swing.
Chase Elliott registered the second-fastest lap, ringing up 186.843 mph on the speed chart in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet. Ryan Newman, last week’s winner at Phoenix Raceway, was third-fastest in the Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson, who damaged his primary car in Friday’s opening practice, turned his first laps with his reserve Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet on Saturday morning. He was fourth-fastest at 186.384 mph. Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five in the first practice of the day.
Pole sitter Kyle Larson, who also topped Friday’s lone practice, placed 22nd on the board in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet.
The practice was marked by two incidents late in the session. Kevin Harvick scraped the right side of his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford on the Turn 4 wall with just over 10 minutes left in the session. Harvick managed the sixth-fastest speed in the 14 laps he turned before the incident.
A more significant impact for David Ragan’s No. 38 Ford into the outside retaining wall brought the session to a close with less than two minutes of practice remaining. His Front Row Motorsports team will opt for a reserve car for the balance of the race weekend.
“We just cut a left-rear tire going down the back straightaway and I tried to start slowing it down as quick as I could, and just couldn’t slow it down fast enough,” Ragan said. “By the time I got to Turn 3, I was wrecking before I even got to the corner. It’s certainly unfortunate. I felt like our Camping World Ford was pretty decent. We made a few adjustments and hadn’t put new tires on yet, and I felt like our speeds hadn’t fallen off a lot, so it’s unfortunate. Hopefully, we can get our backup out in time to make a few laps in the second practice.”
Five teams were held out of the opening 15 minutes of practice because of technical violations Friday. Trevor Bayne’s team was docked for failing on two passes through the Laser Inspection Station (LIS). The cars of Joey Logano, Gray Gaulding and Matt DiBenedetto failed LIS on their second pass through. The No 38 Ford of David Ragan was penalized for an improper seal for transmission or gears.