Jimmie Johnson is at it again. During the final practice sessions for Saturday night’s NASCAR Banking 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson set a blistering pace that no other driver had an answer for.
During the first session, Johnson wasn’t just good, he was off the charts good. His early lap of 187.162 mph was almost two mph faster than the second best time of teammate Mark Martin. That kind of speed differential rarely happens and is something he didn’t even do when he won an unprecedented five of six Charlotte races from off 2002 to 2005.
Greg Biffle was one of the drivers who was trying to keep pace with Johnson during the session—and did a decent job with the third best speed, noted that Johnson was just too quick in and out of turns three and four.
During Happy Hour, Johnson was just as good with the fastest lap of 185.478 mph early in the session followed once again by Martin with the second quickest lap. In just about all fazes of practice, Johnson dominated the day including having the best 10-lap average.
The chassis Johnson brought this week was the same one he led 17 laps with in Atlanta six weeks ago before having rear-end problems and finishing 36th . In the primary practice using race trim, Johnson was also fastest then and not so coincidentally, Martin was the second fastest then too, but not by such a wide margin.
Johnson’s dominance didn’t extend to just Friday. He was fastest in limited practice Thursday night just before qualifying. where he won the pole too. In what may be the most dominant display of consistency by two teammates, Mark Martin finished second fastest in every session including sitting on the front row with Jimmie. This is only the second time all season that one driver has lead all three practice sessions, and definitely a first for a 1-2 exacta.
A few of the areas that Johnson didn’t reign supreme at were some longer average runs. In the first session Juan Pablo Montoya—using the new chassis that finished fourth at Kansas—had the best average speed while running only 17 laps.
The driver that made a nice impression as someone who may be able to challenge Johnson was Kyle Busch who had the best 20 lap average among all drivers in the first practice session while running 43 laps, the most among all drivers. During Happy Hour, Busch was able to run the fifth fastest lap.
Busch brought his fifth place Richmond chassis this week with hopes that they can get that car dialed in like it was Memorial Day Weekend when Busch led the most laps in the rain shortened Coca-Cola 600. Despite not running well on the sister track of Atlanta in September, Kyle may be back to being a contender to win on a 1.5-mile track and he does have history on his side in Charlotte. He’s on a streak that has seen him finish in the top-six in his last four starts.
Mark Martin leads all drivers with 17 top-five finishes at Charlotte and brought the car that he won at Michigan with. He’s looking to take all those great practice times to the winners circle at Charlotte for the fifth time in his career, while also retaking the points lead from Johnson.
Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne, who won on the sister track of Atlanta last month comes in with good, but not stellar practice times. When he won in Atlanta, it was almost the exact same scenario where he was good in practice, but showed no signs of looking like a winning car.
Kahne should be okay Saturday based on history. He has an average finish of 3.3 in his last three starts at Charlotte with three wins overall.
Tony Stewart brought his winning Kansas Chassis to Charlotte this week and his practice times are looking very similar to what he ran in Kansas with very good average speeds.
Ryan Newman is happy to be visiting Charlotte again because it’s the site of his best start and finish on 2009. He brought his Chicagoland car, which finished sixth there, and ran sixth quickest in Happy Hour.
Friday’s Early Practice Session:
1) Jimmie Johnson 187.162 mph - AVG 24 laps @ 182.204race
2) Mark Martin 185.790 mph - AVG 33 laps @ 181.445
3) Greg Biffle 185.242 mph - AVG 25 laps @ 180.620
4) Matt Kenseth 184.805 mph - AVG 32 laps @ 179.745
5) Denny Hamlin 184.786 mph - AVG 41 laps @ 181.382
Top average speed: Juan Pablo Montoya 17 laps @ 182.509
Most laps run: Kyle Busch - 43
Friday’s Final Practice (Happy H our)
1) Jimmie Johnson 185.478 mph - AVG 48 laps @ 181.094
2) Mark Martin 184.849 mph - AVG 44 laps @ 181.190
3) Denny Hamlin 184.685 mph - AVG 54 laps @ 181.033
4) Robby Gordon 184.237 mph - AVG 30 @ 180.198
5) Kyle Busch 183.974 mph - AVG 45 laps @ 181.211
Top average speed: Kyle Busch
Most laps run: Martin Truex Jr - 59
Top 10 Rated Drivers at Charlotte after all practice and qualifying sessions are completed. Rating will also consist of information from September’s Atlanta race along with other recent 1.5-mile races. Current state of the team will also have a slight bearing.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Mark Martin
3) Kyle Busch
4) Denny Hamlin
5) Kasey Kahne
6) Tony Stewart
7) Ryan Newman
8) Juan Pablo Montoya
9) Jeff Gordon
10) Greg Biffle