Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, and Brendan Gaughan were the fastest guns in the west Friday during three rounds of NASCAR XFINITY Series practice out in Arizona. The trio paced the field in preparation for Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at one-mile Phoenix International Raceway.
Saturday will be the first race of the 2017 XFINITY Series Dash for Cash program, a contest that includes new participation limits set by NASCAR during the offseason. No drivers with more than five years of Cup experience are eligible to drive in the event unless they’ve chosen to compete for the series championship.
That cut down the entry list, with only 41 cars at the track but the competition is as fierce as ever. Jones was the leader of the opening round, clocking a lap time of 27.372 seconds (131.521 mph). Blaney’s Penske Ford was second in the first session as well with William Byron, Brandon Jones, and Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five.
Blaney’s time of 27.423 led the pack during practice number two. Jones fell to second quick in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, one of the few Cup regulars eligible under the new rules. Third was Byron, followed by defending series champion Daniel Suarez and Matt Tifft. Four of those top-five drivers were from the JGR stable as they flexed their muscle out in the desert.
In final practice, Gaughan highlighted the round with a lap of 27.449 seconds (131.152 mph). That clocked in only .006 seconds faster than Blaney. Next was rookie Byron in third, Tifft fourth, and, in a bit of a surprise, Dakoda Armstrong in fifth. Jones was 10th in the final practice but remained one of the most consistent drivers on track throughout the course of the day.
It was Blaney, though who had the best average position across all three practices. He’ll be the favorite for pole qualifying tomorrow going up against the JGR contingent and Gaughan’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
The DC Solar 200 airs live from Phoenix on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on FOX.