DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Juan Pablo Montoya shot to the top of the speed chart in final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday afternoon at Darlington Raceway.
Montoya, still seeking his first oval track NASCAR win, clocked a lap of 177.070 mph on the 1.366-mile track in his No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet late in the 45-minute session. That edged second-fastest Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (176.809), who was easily the fastest rookie in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
Roush teammate Carl Edwards was third-fastest with Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch completing the top five in final prep for Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500.
Unlike the first two-hour practice of the day, drivers largely kept their cars off the barriers to avoid the famed, dreaded "Darlington Stripe." Danica Patrick, the only driver so far to switch to a backup car after a wreck in first practice, was 38th-fastest in the second session.
Series points leader Jimmie Johnson, the defending race winner, was 15th-fastest in final practice. Defending series champ Brad Keselowski turned in the 31st-fastest lap.
Menard turned a fast lap of 173.963 mph around the 1.366-mile track in his No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. The former Brickyard 400 champ, who currently ranks ninth in the series standings, clocked the fast time on his second lap of the two-hour session.
Clint Bowyer was second fastest with a 173.626 mph lap, going out late in the first practice in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Jamie McMurray was third best at 172.936 mph in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing entry.
Several drivers earned their first "Darlington Stripe" with the new sixth-generation Sprint Cup car, most notably former Darlington winners Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon, who scraped the outside wall. Gordon, a four-time series champ and seven-time winner at the historic South Carolina track, will make his 700th Sprint Cup start Saturday.
Rookie Danica Patrick, making her second Darlington start in the Cup series, made significant contact with the Turn 2 barrier. She was 31st fastest before crumpling the right side of her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, forcing the team to deploy its backup car.
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