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Folsom Telegraph Automotive

Larson tops the speed charts in day one of NASCAR at Sonoma

Local driver shows strength at track closest to home
By: Bill Sullivan & NASCAR Media
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The stars of NASCAR have rolled into the region for their sole annual appearance nearest to the Central Valley this week at Sonoma Raceway. In day one of this area wine country classic, Northern California native Kyle Larson continued his dominance of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  

Friday, Larson took on the twisting turns of Sonoma, a track he has struggled at previously in his young career.  The 24-year-old driver that started his career at the likes of nearby Placerville Speedway turned heads once again, topping the speed charts in practice at Sonoma Raceway on Friday.

Larson, the series points leader, pushed the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet to a best lap of 94.389 mph in the 90-minute final session, which was extended five minutes because of an early lengthy red flag. The practice was marked by significant crashes for Chase Elliott and Erik Jones, who will compete in their back-up cars the rest of the weekend.

Kyle Busch posted the second-fastest lap around the 1.99-mile road course at 94.344 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. Dale Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray finished out the top five in final prep for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

The final session had an eventful start. Cole Whitt spun in Turn 2 in the opening five minutes, sliding off course when his TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet leaked fluid from a broken oil cooler. Moments later, Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Jones skidded into the tire barrier in Turn 11, prompting his Furniture Row Racing team to unload its reserve No. 77 Toyota.

“I just got some wheel-hop, got loose and into the fence,” said Jones, set for his first Sonoma start this weekend. “I’ve been frustrated all day, and this just kind of compounds that.”

With just under 15 minutes remaining in the session, Elliott lost control of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet in Turn 10. Elliott’s car looped and made heavy front-end contact with the retaining wall, further damaging the vehicle as it pivoted off the barrier.

“Just made a mistake. It was really my fault,” Elliott said. “I hate it for my teammates on the No. 24 team. They sure don’t deserve it. They worked hard this past week to get this car ready to come out here a long way from home. So, made a mistake and we shouldn’t be having that.”

Alon Day was the fastest of the five drivers making their first Monster Energy Series start this weekend. Day, who will become the first Israeli-born driver to compete in NASCAR’s top division, was 23rd-fastest in the BK Racing No. 23 Toyota.

Billy Johnson, subbing for the injured Aric Almirola in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford, was 29th-fastest on the board. Josh Bilicki (36th), Kevin O’Connell (37th) and Tommy Regan (38th) rounded out the final-practice efforts by series newcomers.

Coors Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled Saturday at 2:45 p.m. ET (FS1).

Martin Truex Jr. set the fastest lap in opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Truex turned a lap of 94.587 mph in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota on the 1.99-mile road course. The 1-hour, 55-minute session was the first on-track preparation for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, the first of two road races for the series this year.

Denny Hamlin pushed the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota to the second-fastest lap at 94.068 mph. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top five, respectively.

Series points leader Kyle Larson, last week’s winner in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet, registered the 14th-fastest lap at 93.118 mph.

Five drivers are set for their Monster Energy Series debuts this weekend. Billy Johnson, this week’s fill-in for Aric Almirola in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford, was the fastest of the quintet, recovering from an early spin to post the 22nd-fastest time....