As expected, playoff contenders dominated practice on Friday before the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and they will carry that momentum into Sunday’s race.
Still there managed to be a few surprises in the first practice.
William Byron – who needs a string of top-10s or a win in order to advance to the Round of 12 – sat atop the five and 10-lap average leaderboard in that session with an elapsed time of 30.583 and 30.688 seconds per lap respectively. This has not been a particularly good track for him in the past with no top-25s in his rookie season and a best of 16th this spring. As a result, it is difficult to handicap him with great odds of scoring a top-10 this week.
Perhaps even more surprising in that session was the performance of Austin Dillon. He posted the second-quickest speeds on the five- and 10-lap charts and has been a little better overall than Byron. With a fifth in 2016 and a sweep of the top 15 last year, he knows how to find the front of the pack. He is also a bit cheaper in cap games and could be one of the top choices this week as a non-playoff driver pick in NASCAR Fantasy Live.
Lined up behind those two drivers on the five-lap chart were playoff contenders Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch. Since only 12 drivers went 10 or more laps compared to 30 who went five or more, this is the more meaningful chart from Practice 1.
The slowest playoff contender on the five-lap chart was Kevin Harvick with the 24th-quickest time.
In Final Practice when the track was closest to what drivers will face Sunday night, drivers went deeper into their runs.
Brad Keselowski posted the quickest five- and 15-lap averages, dipping to seventh-best on the 10-lap chart. This could potentially be great new for his odds on Sunday. It should allow him to fire off the line quickly, and if he can maintain track position for a few laps, he can yard the field on longer runs.
Ky Busch topped the 10-lap chart and was second-best on the five-lap grid. Unfortunately, he fell off fairly substantially on the 15-lap chart with the eighth-best time. He could fade on long runs. At some point during the South Point 400 a long run will occur and if that costs Busch track position, it could be hard to regain especially given the ease with which Busch occasionally loses his composure.
Logano’s run was particularly interesting because he laid back a couple of times to put himself purposively in dirty air. He seemed to think him would be less bad that the majority of drivers.
Jimmie Johnson had the quickest 10-lap time in Final Practice among non-playoff drivers with an average of 30.93 per lap.
The slowest playoff contender on the 10-lap chart in Happy Hour was Kyle Larson in 20th (of 24 drivers).
The fastest single laps belonged to Clint Bowyer (178.059 mph) in the first session and Kurt Busch (177.276) in Happy Hour. On the speed chart, Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Dillon rounded out the top five in Practice 1 when most cars seemed to work on time trials.