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Practice Notebook: STP 500

Practice Notebook: STP 500

by March 28, 2015 0 comments

Photo credit: Wayne Thomas/The Fourth Turn

RIDGEWAY, Va. — With both Saturday practices for Sunday’s STP 500 concluded at Martinsville Speedway, here is a look at various storylines coming out of both practice sessions that may give an insight into what to expect out of tomorrow’s race.

Martinsville (Unsurprisingly) is Chevy’s Playground Once More

Chevrolet drivers held a stranglehold on the top-10 in both Saturday practices for the STP 500 – placing eight drivers in the top-10 in second practice with six drivers doing so in final practice.

Considering the fact that the manufacturer has swept the last eight races at Martinsville, Chevrolet’s dominance of the speed charts should come as no surprise.

Although Toyota’s Denny Hamlin led second practice (with Chevy drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne taking positions two through four), Kurt Busch claimed final practice for the gold bowties with three other Chevrolets residing in the top-five of the speed chart.

Conditions for tomorrow’s race are expected to be sunny and slightly warmer than the conditions present at the track today. If the Chevrolet teams can adjust to the changes in the weather properly, they will be sitting in a comfortable position to give their car manufacturer their ninth consecutive victory at Martinsville Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Breakthrough Sitting on the Horizon

Last season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s strengths were on the superspeedways and intermediate tracks; this season, based off of practice speeds, their strong suit may be on the short tracks.

Two JGR drivers, Hamlin and Carl Edwards, placed in the top-five of the speed chart for second practice with Hamlin taking the top spot with a lap of 19.499 seconds. In final practice, Hamlin slipped to fourth on the speed chart while Edwards slid back to ninth in the standings.

Despite both drivers falling back in comparison to the competition in terms of their best laps in final practice, Edwards was the fastest driver on a 10-lap run in the final session of the weekend while Hamlin was third fastest on a 10-lap run.

Fellow JGR drivers Matt Kenseth and David Ragan were unable to crack the top-10 in either practice session although Kenseth did place in the top-20 in both sessions.

Coming off of a strong race at Auto Club Speedway that featured the JGR unit combining to lead 100 of 209 completed laps, it is apparent that the organization has found some momentum and has carried it over to Martinsville.

Chase Elliott Logging Laps, Gaining Experience

Defending XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott didn’t set the world on fire with his practice pace in either of today’s sessions. But, putting the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet at the top of the charts was not on the agenda today – gaining experience in a Sprint Cup car was.

Logging 124 total laps across both sessions – nearly a quarter of the distance of tomorrow’s race – Elliott ran 20th-fastest in the first session of the day and 27th-fastest in the final session of the day and the weekend.

Nobody is expecting a win out of the 19-year-old in his first race in NASCAR’s premier division, and Elliott himself acknowledges that. The 2016 driver of Hendrick Motorsports’s iconic No. 24 Chevrolet’s goal for the STP 500 is simple – complete all 500 laps. After establishing a rhythm around the half-mile paper clip in practice today, Elliott should have a good baseline to work off of in his Cup debut tomorrow afternoon.

Josh Wise Consistent in Both Practices

A surprising name that found itself listed in the top-20 of both practice sessions was Phil Parsons Racing’s Josh Wise, who was scored 19th in second practice and 16th in final practice.

Although he refrained from making a 10-lap run in either session, Wise’s pace in both sessions suggests that his No. 98 team may be in store for a turnaround for their season tomorrow.

After investing capital into their racing program over the offseason, the PPR organization has not turned in the results they have been looking for after failing to qualify at Daytona and respectively finishing 32nd, 34th, 36th and 36th at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Auto Club.

Currently sitting 41st in the owners standings with Wise sitting in 36th in the drivers standings, the No. 98 car’s pace in race practice for the STP 500 is an encouraging sign that bigger and brighter things are on the way for the team.

Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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