Stenhouse, Larson vault atop Bristol practices
August 22, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Final practice results | Sign up for RaceView today
Second-year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shot to the top of the leaderboard in an eventful final practice Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, turning a fast lap in the late stages of preparation for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Stenhouse, who notched his only top-five finish of the season with a runner-up effort at Bristol in March, drove the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford to a best lap of 131.048 mph around the .533-mile concrete track. He was just four-thousandths of a second better than six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, who clocked a 131.012-mph lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.
As in the first practice, several drivers eclipsed the track qualifying record of 129.991 mph set in March by Denny Hamlin. Six drivers were faster than the record in the opening session, and eight drivers topped it in final practice.
Series points leader Jeff Gordon, last weekend's winner at Michigan International Speedway, improved from 17th-fastest in first practice to sixth-best in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet among the 41 drivers to participate in the final practice. Jeff Burton, filling in for Tony Stewart for the second straight week, was 13th-fastest early and 26th-fastest late in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy.
Larson had a dicey moment in the final minute of final practice, charging up on the rear bumper of Brian Vickers' slower car. Larson was hard on the brakes, forcing a fast-closing Brad Keselowski to do the same as both cars fishtailed off Turn 4. Keselowski showed his displeasure by bumping Larson's car as the two pulled around to the pits.
The 50-minute session was slowed by two caution periods for debris in the first 10 minutes. The first of the two was a bizarre paper-strewn affair, when a binder notebook from crew chief "Slugger" Labbe took about a half a lap ride on top of the No. 27 Chevrolet of Paul Menard until sliding off in one of the .533-mile track's turns.
The binder fell apart in a flurry of paper, with some of the sheets lodging themselves on the nose of Matt Kenseth's car. It was the second strange yellow flag of the day after a tape measure fell onto the track in the opening practice.
Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the 24th of 36 races this season is scheduled for a 5:40 p.m. ET start.
Larson best in opening Sprint Cup practice | Practice 1 results
Larson, driving the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet and looking for his first win in NASCAR's premier series, set the pace in the two-hour session with a fast lap of 131.083 mph. The lap was significantly faster than the track qualifying record of 129.991 mph set in March by Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin, who won at Bristol in August 2012, watched the top six drivers go faster than his current track record, but he was among the six with a second-fastest lap of 130.557 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota.
The race was slowed three times by caution periods, two of them for debris. David Stremme had the hardest hit of the session when his Circle Sport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet crunched the outside wall after his throttle hung open on the frontstretch at the 48-minute mark.