Give an early edge to Ross Chastain as the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team unloaded the fastest car by single-lap speed entering the weekend for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Following his miracle move at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the Championship 4, Chastain kept momentum on his side with a quick lap of 133.240 mph.
A group of non-championship eligible drivers followed Chastain in the top five with Ryan Blaney (133.038 mph), Kyle Busch (132.964 mph), Tyler Reddick (132.905 mph) and Kevin Harvick (132.905 mph).
Despite being the fastest out of the gate, Chastain’s crew chief Phil Surgen is focused on keeping the car fast on the long run.
“Obviously being fastest is encouraging. Certainly some opportunity to improve,” Surgen said. “Our short-run speed is good, our mid-run speed probably could use a little bit. That’s where we’ll focus our efforts tonight, on just keeping the far better longer. We’ll do a debrief with the driver. That’s what I just left. After I get back, I’ll do a debrief with the engineers, and we’ll take a look at how the practice went, the balance, the speed, identify where the shortcomings are, figure out from a setup perspective what we want to change going into tomorrow, going into Sunday for race trim, that’s our first objective.”
Joey Logano put down the seventh-fastest lap in Friday evening’s 50-minute session with a 132.802 mph. Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10 at 132.343 mph.
Martinsville winner Christopher Bell didn’t get his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fired off the hauler as he would’ve liked with a lap of 131.719 mph that was only good enough for 20th quickest. His long-run speed didn’t get any better as Bell was 32nd in the 10-lap average chart.
While Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens admitted that the No. 20 wasn’t fast Friday, he said that no trophies are handed out in practice.
“We feel like we can definitely identify our issues and find some differences between our cars and setups, our car and our teammates’ that were a little bit more competitive,” Stevens said. “Should be able to exploit those overnight and be more competitive tomorrow. It just takes a small error in judgment or a fundamental flaw in your thought process to get off as far as we were off. We made one change. It was definitely better. Made one change that was definitely worse. One change didn’t really move the needle.”
Blaney was tops on the multi-lap circuits, putting down the best averages in the five-lap. 10-lap and 15-lap runs around the one-mile Arizona track. Team Penske teammate and title hopeful Logano slotted right behind him in fifth.
Logano’s crew chief Paul Wolfe said he was pleased with how the lone practice session went.
“All the Penske cars had pretty good speed out of the gate,” Wolfe said. “Our teammates were able to try some items as well. We have a lot of stuff to look at and make some decisions on. The 12 was really fast, as well. It just gives us more to lean on and more confidence in changes and things as we try to make decisions as we go into tomorrow.
“Obviously, the conditions, it cooled off quite a bit. Be pretty warm, from what I’ve seen, on Sunday. The track will have a lot less grip. We’ll have to make sure we adjust our balance accordingly for that.”
2020 champion Elliott was the fastest of the Championship 4 on the 10 consecutive lap chart with an average speed of 131.485 mph.
Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said after practice that experience is valuable when it comes to racing in the Championship 4. He and Elliott were able to win the Cup title two years ago after starting at the rear of the field.
“Yeah, any experience is valuable, in my opinion,” Gustafson said. “I think maybe all of it doesn’t correlate. When you get to come race for a championship, yeah, it’s been the same track obviously, but even before, when it was Homestead, I think you can draw some of your experiences.”
The Cup Series championship race is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC, Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).