BRISTOL, Tenn. – Though it’s been more than a decade since he raced with any regularity on dirt, Alex Bowman looked right at home Friday during first NASCAR Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bowman took the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet to the top of the speed charts at the .533-mile, dirt-covered oval and stayed there, setting the pace during the 50-minute training session for the Food City Dirt Race.
The Tucson, Ariz., native’s best lap of 42 was his first lap at speed, a time of 20.155 seconds (95.202 mph). He’s a former USAC Focus Midget titlist and the 2009 USAC national midget rookie of the year.
Bowman moved away from regular dirt racing after a life-threatening USAC midget crash in 2010 at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, which left him with two broken collarbones, multiple broken ribs, and punctured and collapsed lungs.
Since then, he’s only run on dirt sparingly, mainly at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in a midget. But Friday, Bowman returned to dirt racing and slung a stock car around Bristol in impressive fashion.
Due to worsening track conditions, the Cup Series cars were more than seven tenths of a second slower than their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series counterparts. The main groove around Bristol’s dirt surface was completely rubbered up from Truck Series practice by the time the Cup cars went out.
Despite that, Bowman tipped that he was pleased with his car’s handling throughout the first session and appeared relaxed after climbing from his car and speaking to FOX Sports reporter Jamie Little.
“It’s a lot of fun, for sure,” said Bowman of racing on dirt at Bristol. “I’m pretty happy with our Ally Camaro. Everyone at Hendrick Motorsports did a great job of … guessing, I guess, on the dirt side of things. We tried to use the little bit of knowledge that we do have, and it’s paying off so far.
“It’s a blast to run here, and it’s going pretty well early, I think,” he added. “I feel like on long runs, we’re lacking, because we just burn the right-rear (tire) off from the center to (corner) exit and can’t make any (forward) drive. We’ll keep working on it; I’m happy to be P1 in practice, but we’ve got a lot of work still to do.”
Second-quickest was the No. 20 Toyota of Christopher Bell, a three-time winner of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, with Bell’s teammate Kyle Busch slotting in third overall in the No. 18 Toyota.
Denny Hamlin made it three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers inside the top five with the fourth-best lap of the opening practice session, while Kyle Larson ended the 50-minute round fifth on the time sheets.
Sixth through 10th were defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Cole Custer, William Byron and Chase Briscoe.
USAC Triple Crown champion Chris Windom was 34th best in single-lap times, while California sprint car and midget star Shane Golobic ranked 37th at the end of the opening practice.
Larson posted the best five-lap, 10-lap and 15-lap average speeds during Friday’s first practice session, setting himself up as the early favorite for Sunday’s 250-lap Food City Dirt Race on the Bristol dirt.
Final practice for the NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway goes green at 6:30 p.m., live on FS1.
FIRST PRACTICE RESULTS: NASCAR Cup Series; Bristol Motor Speedway; March 26, 2021
- #48 – Alex Bowman, 20.155
- #20 – Christopher Bell, 20.225
- #18 – Kyle Busch, 20.248
- #11 – Denny Hamlin, 20.266
- #5 – Kyle Larson, 20.314
- #9 – Chase Elliott, 20.334
- #22 – Joey Logano, 20.434
- #41 – Cole Custer, 20.523
- #24 – William Byron, 20.535
- #14 – Chase Briscoe, 20.548
- #6 – Ryan Newman, 20.550
- #17 – Chris Buescher, 20.557
- #19 – Martin Truex Jr., 20.568
- #4 – Kevin Harvick, 20.574
- #8 – Tyler Reddick, 20.595
- #7 – Corey LaJoie, 20.626
- #37 – Ryan Preece, 20.650
- #42 – Ross Chastain, 20.707
- #21 – Matt DiBenedetto, 20.711
- #10 – Aric Almirola, 20.717
- #38 – Anthony Alfredo, 20.728
- #1 – Kurt Busch, 20.751
- #43 – Erik Jones, 20.760
- #99 – Daniel Suarez, 20.771
- #53 – J.J. Yeley, 20.776
- #2 – Brad Keselowski, 20.781
- #23 – Bubba Wallace, 20.794
- #96 – Ty Dillon, 20.796
- #77 – Stewart Friesen, 20.810
- #34 – Michael McDowell, 20.818
- #12 – Ryan Blaney, 20.838
- #3 – Austin Dillon, 20.840
- #00 – Quin Houff, 20.852
- #15 – Chris Windom, 20.866
- #47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 20.898
- #52 – Josh Bilicki, 20.998
- #78 – Shane Golobic, 21.012
- #66 – Mike Marlar, 21.109
- #51 – Cody Ware, 21.112