Commentary

Indianapolis NASCAR blog -- Friday

Updated: July 24, 2009, 6:00 PM ET
By Terry Blount, Ed Hinton, David Newton and K. Lee Davis | ESPN.com

All times Eastern.

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4:49 p.m.

Mark Martin turned the fastest lap of the day at 180.643 mph, edging Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of practice.

Kasey Kahne was third and Kevin Harvick a surprising fourth on the speed chart at the end of the second practice.

***

Sam Hornish Jr. and Michael Waltrip got the lucky draw spots for qualifying tomorrow.

4:19 p.m.

Qualifying starts at 10 a.m., when the track is cooler, which is conducive to better grip and faster speeds. Typically at Indy, the pole goes to a driver in the top 10 or 12 spots in line.

An early draw can mean two-tenths of a second quicker to a car's lap time.

Hornish will go out first and Waltrip is second. But the best car with an early draw might be that of Mark Martin, who goes out third in the No. 5 Chevy.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes out sixth.

On the opposite end of things is Max Papis, last on the draw list. Papis must qualify on speed when the track will be hot if the sun is beating down on it.

All the drivers without a guaranteed spot go out at the end, so track conditions for Papis won't be much different from those for the other go-or-go-home drivers.

The 2.5-mile Indy rectangle is one of the most heat-sensitive tracks in racing.

All this might be academic. The forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain Saturday.

-- Terry Blount

3:59 p.m.

Juan Pablo Montoya has been fast all day and leads the second practice, but he's trying to keep his emotions in check.

"The car feels really good," Montoya said in a TV interview. "You get excited at Indy and think, 'Oh man. We can win the race.' But we have to remember why we're here, and our goal is to make the Chase."

-- Terry Blount

3:40 p.m.

The second practice is under way at IMS, and a familiar name is setting the pace.

Juan Pablo Montoya is the early leader in the second practice, posting the first 180 mph lap of the day at 180.151 mph in the No. 42 Chevy. Kasey Kahne is second and Denny Hamlin third, but only 30 cars have gone on the track.

-- Terry Blount

3:25 p.m.

Here's the first practice report, courtesy of the speedway's crack team.

NASCAR Sprint Cup practice No. 1

At 2 p.m., the beginning of NASCAR Sprint Cup practice, the ambient temperature was 82 degrees with a relative humidity of 47 percent and west-northwest winds at 3 mph. The track temperature was 115 degrees, according to Goodyear. Skies were sunny.

Event speed record: 186.293 mph, Casey Mears, Aug. 7, 2004, qualifying

2008 pole speed: 181.763 mph, Jimmie Johnson

2 p.m. -- GREEN. No. 43 Allmendinger first on track. He also was first on track in 2008.
2:10 p.m. -- No. 21 Bill Elliott fastest at 176.547. No. 48 Jimmie Johnson in garage after brushing wall. Light damage to right-rear quarter-panel.
2:35 p.m. -- Top three drivers on speed chart all have victories at IMS. 2002 Brickyard winner, Elliott (176.547), 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (175.922), 2006, '08 Brickyard winner Johnson (175.922).
3 p.m. -- RED and BLACK. End of session. No. 16 Greg Biffle fastest at 177.075 on his final lap.

Top Five Drivers, First Practice:
1. -- Greg Biffle -- 177.075 mph
2. -- Juan Pablo Montoya -- 176.630
3. -- Bill Elliott -- 176.547
4. -- Brian Vickers -- 176.481
5. -- Ryan Newman -- 176.187

-- K. Lee Davis

3 p.m.

The first practice has ended, and tires do not appear to be an issue.

Jeff Gordon said he had no problems with his tires in the first practice.

"Our tires are great," Gordon said on a TV interview. "It's a really good sign and good news. It's a huge relief. Last year wasn't any fun for anybody."

-- Terry Blount

2:56 p.m.

Jeff Burton called the situation at Richard Childress Racing "a little bit of chaos." "I think everyone would admit that," he said Friday. "When you get behind, everything gets harder. We're trying to change things, but you can't turn it around overnight. It takes a while to turn around a big ship." All four RCR drivers -- Burton, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears -- rank outside the top-12 Chase cutoff point. "Obviously, we did something wrong in preparation for this season," Burton said. "The testing ban has been a big negative for us. But that's our fault. We need to be quick enough not to get caught holding the bag when NASCAR makes a rule change."

-- Terry Blount

2:41 p.m.

Latest top speeds are a little different from the beginning. Bill Elliott is top dog with a speed of 176.547 mph, with Juan Pablo Montoya at 175.922 and Jimmie Johnson at 175.641

***

And the latest on Danica Patrick? Chip Ganassi -- who owns teams in Sprint Cup and Patrick's IndyCar Series -- said he thinks she should stay put in open-wheel cars for now. Check out David Newton's story here.

-- K. Lee Davis

2:22 p.m.

Denny Hamlin said he believes his No. 11 Chevy team is gaining ground on Hendrick Motorsports. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has finished in the top five in four of the last five races.

"The Hendrick cars still have better engines, better chassis and better bodies," Hamlin said Friday. "But earlier this year we were 10 percent behind them in all those areas. Now it's probably 5 percent and we're still gaining on them."

-- Terry Blount

2:15 p.m.

The good news is, Tony Stewart doesn't seem nearly as uptight as he usually does at the home track he reveres so. Nothing volatile came out of him when he met with reporters Friday.

The bad news is, he's so drained from local promotional appearances this week that his comments were fairly drab.

He'd spent Thursday with an Office Depot back-to-school promotion, and the evening with his midget and Silver Crown teams running at O'Reilly (nee Indianapolis) Raceway Park. This, on top of shooting a commercial on Tuesday and then appearing at a charity event with John Andretti and Mark Dismore on Wednesday.

"I've got nothing left," he said as he left his media conference Friday.

-- Ed Hinton

2:15 p.m.

Latest Jeremy Mayfield news, in case you hadn't seen it, is that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court temporary injunction, and Mayfield is again suspended. Read it here.

-- K. Lee Davis

2:12 p.m.

Early speed charts have Bill Elliott in first, Jeff Gordon in second and Juan Pablo Montoya third.

Tires seem fine on a warm and sunny day. Temperature is 79 degrees.

-- K. Lee Davis

2 p.m.

Cars are on the track and not a single tire has blown!

Kidding of course, the first practice is under way. Stay tuned for updates

-- K. Lee Davis

1:46 p.m.

The red Target car that Juan Pablo Montoya drove to victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 was back in Victory Lane on Friday.

Next to it was a retro paint scheme, complete with a yellow lightning bolt, on his Sprint Cup car to commemorate that victory. Montoya also had the bolt on his uniform.

"It gives me goose bumps to think about it," team owner Chip Ganassi said of Montoya's win in the 500. "It was one of those days when we had a perfect car."

-- David Newton

1 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jimmie Johnson apparently found a razor during the off weekend.

The three-time defending Sprint Cup champion arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday clean-shaven for the first time since the end of last season, when he started sporting a beard.

"On my trip, I woke up one morning and shaved it off and [my wife, Chandra] said, 'What happened?'" Johnson said. "With the hot weather coming I just decided to shave it off."

Johnson is the defending champion at the Brickyard. He has won two of the past three years, alternating with Tony Stewart the past four years.

He hopes NASCAR never loses this race, although there has been speculation the future may be in doubt with a crowd of only 125,000 to 150,000 expected to attend an event that usually draws 230,000 or more (Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a capacity of 257,000-plus).

"We need to be here," Johnson said.

-- David Newton