DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers took to the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway on Saturday for not one, but two practice sessions in preparation for next Sunday’s 60th Running of the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
These practices were very tame though, as most of the time, teams decided to do single car runs, or run in draft with teammates. There were times late in both sessions that some drafting practice too place too.
In the first of two 50 minute sessions on Saturday, the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the final minutes. Kyle Busch led the first Daytona 500 practice with a speed of 199.743 mph in his No. 18 Toyota because of that late drafting tandem by the JGR cars..
He had drafting help with his other three JGR teammates running in tow with one another. His teammate and 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin was second quick with a lap around the 2.5-mile track with a speed of 199.623 mph in his No. 11 Toyota.
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Daniel Suarez (199.610 mph) and Erik Jones (199.517 mph) were third and fourth respectively, while Chevrolet’s Austin Dillon rounded out the top five with a lap of 197.278 mph. Dillon, had drafting help from Jamie McMurray to turn that lap, as McMurray was sixth because of their tandem run.
Ty Dillon was seventh to give Chevy three of the top seven speeds. Throw in Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson, and the bowties had six cars in the top 11 of the opening practice. Chevy, has won the last five Daytona 500 poles, and are the favorites again, with McMurray and Larson turning the top two speeds out of the draft.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the top Ford driver in eighth, with the next best Ford driver coming in 12th (Brad Keselowski) on the speed charts.
Ford won all four restrictor plate races last year and has a seven race win streak at Daytona and Talladega.
There was a 16 minute red flag in the middle of the session for fluid clean up.
Final practice was a little more intense than the first one, with eight drivers turning laps in excess of 200 mph. Rookie William Byron led the way with a top speed of 201.681 mph in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron, is looking to become the fourth rookie to win the Daytona 500 pole in the last six years. Also, if he wins the pole on Sunday, it will be the fourth straight pole for the No. 24 entry.
Fords had a much stronger showing in this session, with many of them running together to get fast laps. Coke Zero 400 winner last year Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second on the speed chart in his No. 17 Ford with a lap of 201.649 mph.
Another Ford driver in 2015 Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano was third in his No. 22 Ford (201.608 mph) while 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin (201.464 mph) was fourth in his No. 11 Toyota.
David Ragan rounded out the top five with a speed of 201.054 mph in his No. 38 Ford.
The series will qualify for the Great American Race on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. ET on FOX.