CLICK: Full results from Practice 1 at Talladega Superspeedway
CLICK: Full results from Practice 2 at Talladega Superspeedway
Clint Bowyer started the year's final restrictor plate race weekend in strong form, the fastest man on the track on Friday at Talladega Superspeedway ahead of Sunday's GEICO 500.
The two-time Talladega winner set his best time of the day of 47.788s (200.385mph) in the #15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota during the first, hour-long practice session with the aid of the aerodynamic draft on the 2.6-mile steep-banked tri-oval.
Only two other drivers broke the 200mph mark on Friday, with Richard Petty Motorsport's Aric Almirola just 0.028s behind Bowyer and defending race winner Jamie McMurray was less than four hundredths of a second further back in the #1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy.
Notably, the top seven positions in the first practice session were all drivers no longer in contention for the Chase that decides the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. The next four positions were taken by Michael McDowell (Leavine Family Racing), Travis Kvapil (FAS Lane Racing ), Kyle Larson (CGR) and Landon Cassill (Hillman Racing) respectively.
The fastest of the Chase contenders was Penske's Brad Keselowski, who posted the eighth fastest time of the session with a speed of 199.238mph to put him just ahead of the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle.
Keselowski's team mate Joey Logano was 31st fastest and Kevin Harvick finished in 37th place, but neither man has to worry about progressing through to the next round of the Chase as they both already have a guaranteed place thanks to race wins at Kansas and Charlotte respectively.
Hendrick Motorsport's Jimmie Johnson is one of the biggest names at rise of failing to make the next round of the Chase, and he could only manage the 32nd fastest time in first practice, but that was because he deiced to steer clear of the three-wide drafting practice and settled instead for solo-runs to help him dial in the #48.
In the 50-minute second and final Cup practice session of the weekend, Kyle Busch took the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the top of the timesheets, but his lap of 49.056s (195.205mph) was significantly slower than the earlier session and would only have been good enough for 37th place in first practice.
Kyle Larson was second-fastest in final practice with a time just 0.022s behind that of Busch, followed by a brace of Hendrick cars still in the Chase driven by Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon.
The main reason for the slower times in the 'Happy Hour' stint was that only half the field went out on track. While 46 cars took place in the first session only 21 were at work in the later practice.
Most drivers clearly already feeling that their cars were sufficiently tuned-in to the circuit and that conserving their equipment and avoiding potential damage took priority. Three of the 12 Chase contenders - Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman - sat out the session, while Joey Logano finished bottom of the timesheets after completing only one timed lap.
In fact both sessions went through without incident, despite fears that the line-up of the next round of the Chase could be decided by one of Talladega's famed 'Big Ones', a multi-car wreck that can erupt at any time and take out any driver no matter how well or smart they may be driving.
Qualifying for the GEICO 500 doesn't take place until late afternoon on Saturday, and the race itself gets underway at 1pm local time on Sunday afternoon. IN the meantime, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series field is in action with qualifying for the Fred's 250 on Friday evening and the 94-lap race getting underway at midday on Saturday.
There is no NASCAR Nationwide Series racing this weekend or next, with the next event not due until the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge on November 1 at Texas Motor Speedway.
See results from Practice 1 at Talladega Superspeedway
See results from Practice 2 at Talladega Superspeedway