Larson, whose hometown of Elk Grove, Calif., is roughly two hours away from Sonoma, is riding off a lot of momentum in the past month. He has four top 15s in the past four races, including a third at Michigan in the series’ last race two weeks ago. Although he has qualified third and fourth in his only two starts at Sonoma the past two years, he only has a best finish of 15th.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt hopes to stabilize his up-and-down season. The sport’s most popular driver has four second-place finishes this season, but he has also struggled to four finishes outside of the top 30. His record at Sonoma had been usually mediocre before the last three seasons, which had the No. 88 Chevrolet finishing 12th, third and seventh.
With 41 cars competing this weekend, one of the five open teams will be making the long trek back home. Of the five, Cody Ware in the No. 55 for Premium Motorsports is in the most danger, being over two seconds slower than the next slowest open car in both practice sessions (Dylan Lupton in the No. 93).
The two-hour session started with Regan Smith dropping oil over the track. Although the No. 7 Chevrolet of Smith’s was undamaged, safety crews had to red flag the session for nearly 20 minutes.
Many cars spent the session working on qualifying trim near the end. Larson’s lap at 75.299 seconds (95.141 mph) was his 27th and final of the session, being completed near the end. Teammate Jamie McMurray was second at 94.544 mph. McMurray ran afoul of Tony Stewart during the session, leading to Stewart giving McMurray the one-fingered salute in turn 11 after the hairpin.
Martin Truex, Jr. was third at 94.498 mph. Truex only has two top 10s at the California road course, but one of these was a win in 2013. Earnhardt Jr. was fourth while 2014 winner Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
Full results can be found here.
Earnhardt Jr.’s lap at 95.298 mph was good enough to be on the top of the chart for this session. Casey Mears was somewhat surprisingly in second in this session at 95.255 mph. Mears has had a somewhat underwhelming season; if the season ended tomorrow, his 28th in point standings would be his worst since 2012.
Denny Hamlin at 95.243 mph was third fastest. Hamlin had great results his first four starts at Sonoma but only has a best finish of 18th since 2010. Edwards was fourth fastest while defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch finished the day fifth.
Midway through the 90-minute session, Busch ran over a rabbit that found its way on the 1.99-mile road course. Given the graphic nature of the incident, FOX Sports refused to show a replay of the incident. Busch’s team had to repair a brake duct and clean the undertray of the No. 18 Toyota, costing time in the process. However, Busch was able to go out and complete more laps in the session. He had another close call at the end of the session when he got off-course at turn 10 on his cool-down lap
Seventeen cars ran 10 consecutive laps in this session, with Truex and Busch leading the field with the first and second fastest average time/speed, respectively.
Full results can be found here.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.