While uneventful on the racetrack, the 50-minute practice session Friday at Phoenix Raceway gave teams plenty of time to work with the new short-track aero package for the first time.
Teams were allotted extra track time as NASCAR officials made tweaks in hopes of creating a better racing product. Phoenix is the first race with the changes — a smaller spoiler (two inches) and strakes that were taken out of the diffuser and engine panel.
The action on short tracks and road courses did not receive reviews as good as the intermediate races last season. Officials expect a 30 percent reduction in downforce with the aero changes, making the cars to slide around more, hopefully leading to more passing throughout the field.
Kyle Larson was fastest in the session at 131.258mph (27.427s) after running 59 laps. Ryan Blaney was second fastest at 131.105mph, Alex Bowman third at 130.724mph, Joey Logano fourth at 130.586mph, and Chase Briscoe fifth at 130.270mph.
Briscoe is the defending race winner at Phoenix, having scored his first career Cup Series win in this event last season.
Brad Keselowski was sixth fastest at 130.222mph, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. seventh at 130.165mph, Harrison Burton eighth at 130.147mph, and Kevin Harvick ninth at 130.039mph.
Harvick is a nine-time Phoenix winner.
“Well, I could drive it, so our Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang is manageable,” Harvick told Fox Sports afterward. “I think that’s going to be the name of the game. They still push really bad behind each other, but the good news is they slide around so much that you’ve got options up and down the racetrack. I like that, and having to manage the throttle pedal and the brake pedal and where you’re at on the racetrack — at least that gives you some options.
“The laps time slowed down, and ours hung on pretty good. It looks silly with a mud flap and windshield wiper on it, but other than that, everything is fine.”
Aric Almirola completed the top 10 drivers in practice. He clocked in at 129.959mph.
Zane Smith was 21st fastest and is making his third career start this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, and his first of six races in the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.
Josh Berry was 23rd fastest as he continues to substitute for the injured Chase Elliott. Hendrick Motorsports announced earlier this week Berry will continue to drive the car on all the upcoming oval tracks, with Elliott expected to miss at least six weeks.
There are 36 drivers entered at Phoenix.
Larson was also fastest in the best 10 consecutive lap average over Blaney, Joey Logano, Harvick, and William Byron — the No. 5’s average speed of 129.311mph a touch over Blaney’s 129.211mph.