A new name in a familiar paint scheme led the final Daytona 500 practice, with rookie William Byron driving the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro ZL1 to a fastest lap of 201.681mph as six drivers topped 201mph and eight eclipsed the 200mph mark in the draft.
Ford drivers took seven of the next nine slots, led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in second (201.649mph) and Joey Logano in third (201.608mph). Denny Hamlin’s Toyota was fourth fastest with a lap at 201.464mph and David Ragan (201.054mph) completed the top five.
Byron did have what he called an “oh, shoot” moment toward the end of the session as activity heated up.
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“Yeah, that was one of those ‘oh shoot’ moments, but that was a lot of fun,” he said. “That was the best chance for me to really learn what I needed to do in the draft. I’m really glad we got a pack formed up like that, and it’s a chance to also see how our Axalta Chevy handles.
“It handles good, it has a lot of speed, so hopefully we can keep that going and learn a little bit. Definitely the lanes are always jostling, especially in practice, you don’t really have a clear lane of where you’re supposed to be, so it was good for me to learn that.”
Rounding out the top 10 were the Fords of Paul Menard (201.027mph) and Trevor Bayne (200.378mph), Daniel Suarez (200.227mph), Ryan Blaney (199.751mph) and Michael McDowell (199.486mph).
Speed rose even as NASCAR mandated a gear change for the final practice after the earlier Clash practice saw speeds near 200mph. The gear change from 3.60 to 3.50 will be mandatory for the 500-mile race, while the Clash will still run 360. NASCAR says the change is more about the single-engine rule for the week than for the speed.
NEXT UP: Daytona 500 qualifying at 12:15 p.m. ET Sunday to determine the front row, followed by the 75-lap Advance Auto Parts Clash at 3 p.m. ET.