Saturday morning's practice sessions at Pocono Raceway ahead of this weekend's Windows 10 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race were dominated by superior race pace by the four drivers from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable.
CLICK: Full Saturday practice times from Pocono Raceway.
The first of the day's two 50-minute practice got underway at 9am and saw the team's quartet of drivers scoop a 1-2-3-4 lock-out at the top of the timesheets by the time that the chequered flag came out. It was the newest addition to the team line-up, Carl Edwards, who claimed the overall honours with a best lap of 51.191s (175.812mph) putting him 0.115s ahead of Matt Kenseth, while race pole sitter Kyle Busch was just three thousandths of a second back in third just ahead of Denny Hamlin.
The fastest non-Toyota driver first thing was Kyle's brother Kurt in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, with Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman also looking quickly up to speed in sixth place just a fraction over two tenths of a second slower than Edwards on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Tje most recent race winner at Pocono, Martin Truex Jr. in the #78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy, was 11th fastest in the session, while Hendrick Motorsport's Dale Earnhardt Jr. - who swept both 2014 races at the tricky triangle last season - was struggling to recapture that sort of pace and was only 23rd fastest as the crew worked on the #88 in search of those elusive race set-up settings that had seemed so easy to come by 12 months ago.
The cooler conditions first thing were subsequently proved to have been more conducive to fast pace than the more heated conditions at noon when the Cup drivers returned to action for the final practice opportunity before Sunday's 160 lap, 400 mile race which is the 21st round of the 2015 season.
Even so, it was a JGR driver who was once again present and correct at the top of the timing screens, with Kyle Busch reclaiming his position at the top with a lap of 51.358s (175.240mph). Although some way off the times set in the earlier practice - it would have been only good enough to put Busch into sixth place in that session - it was still sufficient for Kyle to pip his brother Kurt to the top by 0.051s on this occasion.
Carl Edwards followed up his earlier day's best pace with the third fastest lap of the noon session, still within one tenth of Kyle Busch's benchmark time, while Kurt Busch's team mate Kevin Harvick was fourth fastest ahead of Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsport) and Brad Keselowski (Penske). Harvick will start tomorrow's race on the front row alongside Kyle Busch.
However, Busch didn't have it all his own way on Saturday, and midway through the session the #18 slapped the right side wall which meant that he was forced to retreat to the garage for some fairly major repairs. However he wasn't forced to break out the backup car, which would have meant that he would have lost his pole position and been forced to start Sunday's race at the back.
Furthermore any glimmer of hope that Busch's rivals might have had that this meant a possible chink in his current bullet-proof armour that has seen him win four of the last five races were quickly extinguished when the 30-year-old was able to set the session-topping time after the repairs, meaning that if anything the #18 was looking as good if not perhaps even better than it had before the accident.
The same couldn't be said about the #26 BK Racing car driven this weekend by Jeb Burton, which suffered a heavy accident when Burton lost control coming through turn 3 and hit the inside wall at the pit entrance. "That was my fault," Burton admitted to the TV reporters afterwards. "I just screwed up."
There was no chance of repairing the car so Burton will have to go to the backup and start from the rear of the field. While that's not a huge setback in the circumstances - Burton had in any case been set to start from 38th place on the 43-car grid - the fact that he wasn't able to run any laps or give a proper shake-down outing to the backup car will be a biggest hurdle to overcome.
Tony Stewart also needed work done to his car, the SHR #14. The team decided on Saturday to switch out the transmission in the car, but that won't mean he will lose his starting position of fifth place for tomorrow's race. Stewart was 18th in the final practice session after clocking in at 173.157 mph.
See full Saturday practice times from Pocono Raceway.
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