Moving back to the bullrings did nothing to slow the dominant Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing teams at Bristol, with Ryan Blaney topping the first practice session Friday afternoon. Penske/Gibbs drivers Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski each finished second, third, fifth and sixth on the practice charts.
The session started much like the qualifying sessions of late, with few cars making laps in the early going. Many teams opted to make runs for pit road speed in the opening minutes, as persistent rain through Friday morning at Bristol changed the PJ1 traction compound that has been applied to the Bristol surface in recent years. The green track conditions had many playing it safe. Listening to the team radios, it was also unclear if/when NASCAR intends to reapply the compound, as the weather forecast has largely cleared until late Sunday afternoon. Most drivers opted to run the middle or high line during practice, as multiple drivers reported that driving directly through the PJ1 compound did not translate to speed on the race track. Bristol powerhouses Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick both were seen running with their left side tires on the compound during practice to no avail…neither driver finished in the top 10 on the practice chart.
The practice was slowed early for one yellow flag when the No. 77 of Quin Houff was thought to have dropped fluid on the race track. Though clean-up was extremely brief (it’s not clear whether any fluid was actually dropped on the track), the Spire Motorsports crew was seen hard at work under the hood after the yellow:
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) April 5, 2019
The only other (near) incident involved the No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had a major event coming onto the backstretch that nearly sent his Mustang spinning. Stenhouse, who only a few weeks ago at Phoenix was heard chastising his team over the radio for relying on data points while he was racing, told the team he thought that he had used too much brake on that lap but that the “data did not work” on his car. Stenhouse and team did improve in the final minutes of practice though, with the No. 17 reporting that the car was the best it had been in turns 3 and 4 by practice’s end, with entry the biggest remaining issue. Stenhouse was 16th on the final speed chart.
37 of the 38 cars on the entry list for Sunday’s race took time during practice.