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Saturday’s 50-minute session was the only time all 37 cars will get time on the repaved and reconfigured 1.54-mile track prior to Sunday’s race.
In the offseason, the banking was increased from 24 to 28 degrees – higher than any other intermediate track on the NASCAR schedule. The track width was also decreased from 55 feet to 40 feet in the corners. The frontstretch is now 52 feet wide and the backstretch 42 feet wide.
Stenhouse’s average lap speed of 186.616 mph came midway through the session. Kyle Busch ended up second-fastest (186.390 mph) and Christopher Bell ended up third (186.321 mph). Harrison Burton and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five.
“What you saw in practice is what you should expect (in the race),” Stenhouse said. “It does get a little tight on entry, especially into (Turn) 3. Two-wide is comfortable.
“It was practice so nobody was trying to show really three-wide and were not being too aggressive. I think track position is going to be important and we didn’t see a lot of tire wear.”
Completing the top-10 average speeds were Michael McDowell, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Cody Ware.
The session featured a lot of the characteristics typically seen in races at Daytona and Talladega, including the use of drafting and how much time is spent in packs of cars.
Denny Hamlin (182.032 mph) had the fastest average speed among those drivers who ran at least 10 consecutive laps during the session. Chase Elliott, Logano Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top-five in that category.
There were no incidents during the practice. Both Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie were called in off the track to do pass-through penalties for using excessive speed while leaving pit road.
Ryan Blaney completed the most laps (60). Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman all struggled and posted average speeds 30th or lower.