TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Denny Hamlin went nearly 205 mph at Talladega Superspeedway, where he was among seven drivers to top 203 mph in Friday’s first practice.
The Daytona 500 winner went 204.904 mph in the closing moments of the first drafting session of the weekend. He was the only driver to top 204, but Kevin Harvick was second fastest at 203.688 mph. Kyle Busch, who had an early fuel pressure issue at the start of practice, was third at 203.684.
Corey LaJoie was fourth fastest and followed by Michael McDowell and an unusual cast of fast contenders. The top-10 average speeds were rounded out by Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, Brendan Gaughan, Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto.
Of the 40 drivers in the field, 33 topped 200 mph.
The Talladega weekend schedule gives teams track time on Friday only, with qualifying the only scheduled activity Saturday. It makes for a condensed schedule at a wild-card race of NASCAR’s playoffs. Sunday marks the middle race of this round, and four drivers will be trimmed from the remaining field next week at Kansas.
The unpredictability of NASCAR’s fastest and biggest track makes it critical for drivers to have a smart strategy and most will plan to work within their manufacturer alliances. The practice began with Toyota, was perfected by Ford and finally embraced by Chevrolet the last two years. In April, Chase Elliott led Chevy to its first Talladega victory since 2015 when he snapped a seven-race Ford winning streak.