An unpredictable first practice at the Talladega Superspeedway on Friday featured two former Sprint Cup Chase drivers that have had unremarkable seasons the last couple years as the fastest on track. Things stabilized in the second practice session as Jimmie Johnson continued his strong Chase run at the top of the charts.
Greg Biffle is on track to have the worst season of his entire career, but he didn’t show it in the first session. Biffle’s lap at 48.133 seconds (198.949 mph) was the best of the session. It came as no real surprise to some; Biffle had a strong race at Talladega’s sister track Daytona back in July, leading one lap and finishing eighth after spending much of the night in the top 10.
AJ Allmendinger, who was second in the session, has quietly improved on his stats from last year, going from no top 5s and three top 10s to two top 5s and six top 10s this season. Chris Buescher, in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford that won at Talladega in 2013 with David Ragan, was third. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne were fourth and fifth in the session, joining their Roush Fenway Racing teammate Biffle in the top 5.
Carl Edwards, who is 24 points to the good in the next round of the Chase, was 31st after having a rear gearing issue. The No. 19 team changed gears between practice sessions. Overall, this practice featured cars doing everything from solo runs to pack runs, generally with teammates or team allied cars.
Johnson’s season is somewhat similar to Jeff Gordon’s 2015 championship contending year. Before the Chase, both drivers had rather unremarkable seasons, save for Johnson’s early two wins. But once the Chase started, both showed speed that had lied dormant for much of the year. Johnson’s only finish out of the top 10 since the Chase started was Chicagoland, where the California native finished 12th. Johnson is already locked into the next round of the Chase thanks to his win at Charlotte earlier this round, but he still graced the top of the second practice chart with his lap of 48.761 seconds (196.386 mph).
Two-time Talladega winner Matt Kenseth was second. Chase Elliott, who is behind by 26 points from the last Chase cut-off spot, was third. Edwards recovered from his rear gear issue to finish fourth while Alex Bowman did perennial Talladega favorite Dale Earnhardt,Jr. proud by finishing the session fifth. Only 25 of the 42 teams entered ventured on-track during Happy Hour.