By Jacob Seelman, Featured Contributor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He was quick to tell the media, “Don’t read too much into this,” but seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson found himself back atop a Daytona 500 practice rundown on Friday evening.
Johnson took the rebranded Legacy Motor Club team to the head of the scoring pylon at Daytona Int’l Speedway, pacing the opening practice for Sunday’s Great American Race with a lap of 46.338 seconds (194.225 mph) in the No. 84 Carvana Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
While it’s still early in the week, Johnson admitted that having speed early is a confidence builder for him in his first Cup Series drive outside of a Hendrick Motorsports entry.
“We learned a lot out there,” said Johnson after practice. “This is my first real weekend in this car, [crew chief] Todd [Gordon]’s first time working on a Next Gen car, so the focus is on quality reps right now. I’ve got a new spotter; there are a lot of aspects that are new to me here, but I’m super proud of this whole team.
“It was so fun to get out there, mix it up and draft with Chase [Elliott] and my old Hendrick teammates to understand what that’s like, and hopefully the pace we showed today will carry over to Sunday.”
Speaking of Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion ranked second overall in practice speeds Friday, with a time of 46.345 seconds (194.196 mph). Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daytona 500 polesitter Alex Bowman followed, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top four positions in the first practice round of the season.
Six Ford Mustangs closed out the top 10, led by Aric Almirola, who won the second Duel qualifying race on Thursday night and will start fourth Sunday afternoon.
Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Kevin Harvick and Daytona 500 rookie Zane Smith, the defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, were sixth through 10th on the speed charts, respectively.
Defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric never turned a lap in the draft Friday, focusing only on single-car runs to preserve his machine. He ranked slowest of the 37 cars that took time in practice.
No incidents slowed the pace during the first of two Daytona 500 practices this weekend.
Saturday’s Happy Hour final practice for the NASCAR Cup Series will take place at 10:30 a.m. ET, live on FS1.