NASCAR Notebook: Kyle Larson Tops Cup Practice Session; Rookie Chandler Smith Pacing Xfinity Charge; 2 F1 Champs Coming To Texas

NASCAR: Cup Practice

NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson kept Hendrick Motorsports in front of the pack at Phoenix Raceway. 

Larson turned a fast lap at 131.258 mph to top the field during Friday’s 50-minute practice session at the one-mile oval. The extended practice time was needed so drivers could get a better feel for the new aerodynamic package the circuit adopted for smaller tracks and road courses. 

The new rules mandate the Cup machines to possess a 2-inch spoiler and fewer undercarriage strakes. The changes help reduce the downforce by approximately 30 percent.  

Ryan Blaney placed second at 131.105 and was immediately followed by Alex Bowman (130.724), Joey Logano (130.586) and Chase Briscoe (130.27). 

Toyotas struggled in the desert, failing to place one driver in the top 15. Bubba Wallace topped the manufacturer’s effort with a 16th-place finish at 129.413 mph. 

Ford drivers, meanwhile, turned in seven of the top 10 one-lap times. 

Hendrick Motorsports is coming off a 1-2-3 finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday.

Qualifying for the United Rentals Work United 500 will be staged Saturday at 2:05 p.m. ET. 

Rookie Chandler Smith Pacing Xfinity Series Field

Sans AJ Allmendinger, Kaulig Racing’s Xfinity Series garage struggled last season.  

Daniel Hemric, the 2021 Xfinity Series champion, was eliminated from playoff competition during the Round of 12. Landon Cassill missed the postseason cut. With Allmendinger moving up to the Cup Series full-time this season, team president Chris Rice reached into the Truck Series to snare Chandler Smith. 

The 20-year-old rookie has provided Kaulig Racing with a boost. After consecutive top-five finishes, Smith ranks fourth in the points chase. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Saturday, Smith captured his first career pole and led an organizational-best 118 laps but fell short of his first checkered flag. 

In 434 starts for a Kaulig Racing machine, Smith set a franchise mark for laps led in a Xfinity event. 

After six years of piloting a Toyota, Smith transition to driving a Chevrolet will continue during Saturday’s qualifying session at 1:05 p.m. ET. The United Rentals 200 is slated for 4:30 p.m.

2 Former F1 Champs To Compete At Circuit Of The Americas

Kimi Raikkonen, who captured the 2007 Formula 1 drivers’ title, announced he will participate in a NASCAR Cup Series event for the first time since competing at Watkins Glen last season. He will be joined by 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button.

The two open-wheel drivers will compete at the Circuit of the Americas on March 26.

Raikkonen placed 37th following a Lap 44 crash.

“I had a fantastic time at NASCAR,” he said on Trackhouse Racing’s website. “There was a lot to learn in a very short space of time, but they were all very useful, the competition was a great challenge.

“This time I’m competing on a track that I’m familiar with, so there won’t be such a steep learning curve. I want to have fun, but I also want to do as well as I can.”

Raikkonen previously failed to qualify for Xfinity and Truck Series events.

For Button, the road course in Austin, Texas, will mark his NASCAR debut.

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