NASCAR Cup Series teams had a rough go of things on Saturday afternoon after taking to Auto Club Speedway for the first time in two years.
Two red flags flew during the first group practice session for crashes by Kevin Harvick and Ross Chastain. Harvick did not record a practice lap as he spun in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and backed into the outside wall.
Chastain needs a backup car after a crash that took place after the caution for Harvick was lifted. Chastain’s No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet shot to the right in Turn 4 and suffered significant damage to the right front.
After being cleared from the infield care center, NASCAR on Fox reporter Jamie Little said Chastain declined a television interview but admitted to having the wind knocked out of him.
Occurring simultaneously to Chastain’s crash was Chris Buescher spinning in Turn 3. Fortunately for Buescher, he did not hit anything and continued in practice.
Saturday was the debut of the new-look practice and qualifying procedures for this season. The field of 36 was split into two groups and given 15 minutes of practice before a brief break and going into qualifying.
Denny Hamlin, who went out in the first group, was fastest overall at 173.415 mph (41.51s). His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was second fastest at 173.16 mph.
Third fastest was Tyler Reddick at 172.472 mph, Joey Logano was fourth fastest at 172.443 mph, with Alex Bowman rounding out the top five at 172.203 mph.
William Byron was sixth at 172.179 mph, Darrell Wallace Jr. seventh at 172.15 mph, Brad Keselowski eighth at 172.055 mph, Christopher Bell ninth at 171.977 mph, and Erik Jones 10th at 171.694 mph.
Bell was in the first group of drivers and reported he “popped” a right-front tire as the session wound down. While Bell spun in Turn 4, he did not hit anything.
In the second group of drivers, Wallace spun in Turn 2 to bring out a caution. Wallace got loose on entry into the corner and caught the wall with the right rear of his Toyota.