Ryan Blaney pounced on the top spot in opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
Blaney registered a lap of 199.933 mph in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford in the opening preparation for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM). It’s the second event in the playoffs’ Round of 8, the last three-race series that will whittle the postseason field from eight to the final four drivers competing for the season-ending championship.
Fellow playoff-eligible driver Denny Hamlin was second-fastest in the 85-minute session, clocking 199.196 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five.
Playoff contender Jimmie Johnson — a seven-time Texas winner who has prevailed in four of the last six events on the 1.5-mile track — did not post a speed until late in first practice. Fuel pressure issues sidelined the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet until just 12 minutes remained. He wound up with the 19th-fastest speed among the 39 drivers on the track.
Kyle Busch, a two-time Texas winner, was eighth-fastest in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. Busch is the only driver locked into the Championship 4 field after securing an automatic berth for his win at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday.
The other playoff-eligible drivers and their positions on the leaderboard: Chase Elliott (sixth), Kevin Harvick (ninth) and Brad Keselowski (13th).
XFINITY Series regular Daniel Hemric participated in practice as a substitute for Paul Menard in the Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet. Menard and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their second child this week. Hemric — 28th-fastest in opening practice — will also qualify the car with Menard on leave.
Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Monster Energy Series is scheduled Friday at 6:15 p.m. ET (NBC Sports App).