Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – That was the brief consensus when Jimmie Johnson shot to the top of the speed chart in the first round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session at ISM Raceway.
But the seven-time champion’s stint at the front of the field was short-lived. In the second round, Johnson was 17th fastest and failed to advance to the final round.
“I kind of look back to the amount of practice we had today. We only had 20 minutes practice because of the issues we had in Las Vegas, and I never had a chance to go out on scuffed tires to see what adjustments we had to make,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s car failed pre-race inspection three times at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the team lost 30 minutes of practice time in the one session before qualifying on Friday. That left no time for the No. 48 Chevrolet team to make any runs on scuffs.
“I had two runs on stickers in practice, and we clearly dialed that part of the car in, and it would have been nice just to have a scuff run to go out and understand what exactly to do. I’m very optimistic with the speed in the car in that first round and look forward to a full practice session or two (Saturday) and dial this Lowe’s for Pros Chevy in.”
Johnson needs a reason for optimism. He enters Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM) 29th in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points.
BUBBA WALLACE SEARCHES FOR SPEED AFTER DISAPPOINTING RUN
After a spectacular runner-up finish in the season-opening DAYTONA 500, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team have struggled to maintain that level of performance.
Wallace finished 32nd at Atlanta and 21st at Las Vegas. In Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at ISM Raceway, he posted the 27th fastest lap and failed to advance to the second round.
“That’s what we were trying to figure out, where our speed is,” Wallace said after the session. “A little frustrating, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. I’m trying to beat that into my head, but we get so far behind when we start back here.
“We’ll go to work tomorrow on our Click N’ Close Camaro ZL1 and see what we’ve got, try to make some gains and get everything going. Just a little bit of a bummer. Wish we could have obviously gave it a shot for the second round, but we’ll go have some fun (Saturday in practice).”
JUSTIN ALLGAIER NOTES SEAMLESS TRANSITION TO FLANGE-FIT BODY
The good news about the flange-fit body in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year? As JR Motorsports driver Justin Allgaier put it, the transition from sheet metal bodies has been a smooth one.
Asked whether there were noticeable differences that accompanied the change, Allgaier said, “As far as the fundamentals go, no, not really.
“We do the same things when we go to the race track. The inspection line is the same, albeit probably a little bit harder if you’re out of tolerance … it’s harder to put yourself back into tolerance, because the bodies are not as pliable.
“And the amount of bracing that we have is way different. We’re kind of stuck in a box with where the braces have to be at. It puts it on the guys at the shop a lot more to have everything where it needs to be.”
NASCAR’s new Optical Scanning Station has put the onus on the race teams to make sure the bodies conform to the rules before they’re unloaded at the race track.
“I think everybody’s kind of going through that,” Allgaier said. “But, for us, the one thing that’s been nice is that the composite body has been pretty seamless, as far as just introducing it and rolling it out.
“It takes a lot of work to make it seamless, but all the teams have put the effort and the time into it, and it seems like it’s working out really well.”
Early in Friday’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series practice at ISM Raceway, the engine in Elliott Sadler’s No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet expired, trailing a plume of heavy smoke as the car slowed. Tied for the series lead with teammate Tyler Reddick after last week’s Las Vegas race, Sadler will start Saturday’s DC Solar 200 (4 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) from the rear of the field because of the engine change.
“No warning at all from our side,” Sadler said of the failure. “We’ll go debrief and see what happened and go from there. It’s just a fluke deal.”
Sadler’s crew had the new engine in place for final practice, and Sadler returned to the track 10 minutes into the session and posted the 11th fastest lap …
On his first lap in opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. smacked the outside wall in Turn 3 as the result of a brake issue in his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The heavy damage forced the team to roll out a backup car. As a result of the change, Stenhouse will start Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM) from the rear of the field.
“I felt OK going into Turn 1, and then going into Turn 3, something in the left front just kept locking up,” Stenhouse said. “Hopefully, we’ll go back and see what was wrong with it. Definitely not the way we wanted to start our weekend.”