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Happy Hour: McDowell paces practice; Harvick, Biffle have tiff

October 29, 2011, Mark Aumann,

Johnson tops Chasers in only M'ville session; Edwards, Kenseth among slowest

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Talk about a day of rarities Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

The sun finally came out from behind the clouds. Michael McDowell was quickest in Happy Hour. Rain washed out qualifying, giving points leader Carl Edwards a rare front-row starting spot for Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500.


Happy Hour Speeds
2. C. Bowyer 95.782 19.770
3. J. Johnson 95.752 19.776
4. J. McMurray 95.709 19.785
5. S. Speed 95.670 19.793

And Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle wound up bumping on and off the track, and going toe to toe in the garage area. OK, so maybe that's not that unusual, particularly at Martinsville, where close-quarters racing can lead to hot tempers, even on a cold day.

Once the track dried and Cup drivers had a chance to log about 80 minutes of practice, McDowell's lap of 95.893 mph edged last week's winner, Clint Bowyer, at the top of leaderboard. Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Scott Speed rounded out the top five.

It was a typical practice for Martinsville's flat half-mile, as 34 of the 43 starters turned laps in the 19-second range, with the entire field separated by just a little more than 3 mph.

Johnson and Kyle Busch ran the most laps -- 107 -- while David Ragan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also turned more than 100 laps in Saturday's tune-up. On the other hand, Reed Sorenson made just five laps and Joe Nemechek six.

Edwards was only 29th-quickest and teammate Matt Kenseth 24th, but they received a pleasant surprise when qualifying was washed out and the field was set by the NASCAR rule book, putting them on the front row.

* Edwards, Kenseth to start 1-2 | Qualifying the Chasers

Talk about a huge break. Edwards hadn't qualified better than seventh on the Martinsville half-mile and Kenseth's best qualifying performance was 14th. So instead of starting somewhere in the middle of the field, not only do the top two teams in the points start up front, but they get their choices of pit stalls.

"Qualifying, I think, is one of the most important parts of this race and it's no secret that's been a tough thing for me and Matt, as well," Edwards said. "So I think it's best-case for us that we get to start on the front row. ... No matter how much we have to work on the car or things we have to do, that first pit stall will be great."

The key for Kenseth in practice was to find the balance between having a good car on restarts and one that carries speed throughout a green-flag run.

"This is one of those places where your car is a lot different on a 30-lap run than what it is on a 100-lap run," Kenseth said. "You'll see some guys that are real fast taking off and their cars turn really good and it seems like they end up getting really loose. And then there are guys that maybe start a little slower, but are really fast at the end of the run.

"Certainly it's easier when you can start up front. The only aggravating part about it is you don't have anywhere to go except backwards, so it gets aggravating if your car is not real fast and you're losing positions."

Aggravation is one way to describe the little to-do between Harvick and Biffle near the tail end of the session. Harvick, who had ignition box issues earlier in the practice, bobbled coming out of Turn 4 and was hit and pushed across the start/finish line by Biffle.

That didn't appear to sit well with the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet, who then tapped Biffle's left-rear fender when the two cars entered Turn 1. Both drivers stopped their cars side-by-side on the backstretch. And when they eventually returned to the garage, Biffle's No. 16 Ford appeared to bump the back bumper of Harvick's car while being pushed by their respective crews.

Biffle climbed from his car and hustled over to Harvick's stall, where the two drivers appeared to have an animated discussion while being surrounded by NASCAR officials and crew members.

* Video: Biffle, Harvick exchange words