Bower leads 2nd practice at Sonoma Road racing veterans Marcos Ambrose and defending race winner Clint Bowyer split leaderboard honors in a pair of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practices Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway.
Ambrose – who has two Sprint Cup wins to his credit, but none on the 1.99-mile Sonoma track – clocked a series-best lap of 94.049 mph with about 10 minutes left in the 1 hour, 45-minute opening session. The Australian driver for the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford won the Coors Light Pole Award for this event last season.
Bowyer, who scored a dominant breakthrough win on a road course in last year’s race, topped the 90-minute final practice with a lap at 94.556 mph as speeds picked up over the first session.
Montoya, the former Colombian open-wheel star who scored the first of his two Sprint Cup wins at Sonoma in 2007, was second-fastest in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in the opening session. Native Californian Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray completed the top five.
The speeds in the first practice set the groupings for the Sprint Cup Series’ first experience with European-style group qualifying Saturday. That means that the fastest five drivers will go out in a group with five-second intervals between them as they leave pit road.
Bowyer was followed by McMurray, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Montoya in the top five during final practice. Ten drivers eclipsed the 94-mph plateau in the second session, compared to only Ambrose in the first.
A handful of solo spins as drivers made mock qualifying runs in the second session created highlights. Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski slid off the road in Turn 10 early in the 90-minute session, just minutes before Ryan Newman looped his car at the top of the hill in Turn 2.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson skidded into a long slide in Turn 10, but escaped damage. The same couldn’t be said for Denny Hamlin, who creased the right-rear of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the same corner. The team opted against deploying a backup car for Sunday’s race.
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