Alabama 200 Practice Provides More Questions than Answers

A total of 37 cars took time on Friday with two more expected on Saturday.

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Officially, there were 37 Pro Late Models at Montgomery Motor Speedway on Friday with two more expected to show up on Saturday for the Alabama 200.

It’s a big deal kind of race with a wide-open roster of drivers from all across the East Coast. The race will start 32 cars -- meaning seven will not even make the show.

Defending winner Christopher Tullis posted the fastest time in final practice on Friday night with a 19.709 second lap around the moderately banked half mile. Giovanni Ruggiero, Cody Hall, Hunter Robbins and Chris Davidson were all in the top-five, but times didn’t mean much of anything on practice day.

For one, some teams were using leftover tires from two weeks ago at New Smyrna, while others were using stock from Speedfest in January or the Snowball Derby in December. Teams aren’t allowed to purchase a practice set until Saturday alongside their qualifying and race sets.

That means teams were just working on race runs and overall balance. Matthew Craig has raced over a dozen times at Montgomery over the past half-decade and generally knows what he is looking for during a test session.

"We were a little snug, our normal thing here," Craig said. "We learned a few things, got the balance right, but didn't learn too much. It's a fun race track, fun car. It's fun racing a Pro Late Model every now and then. It’s a little slower but it’s fun to race here."

Other teams like Ronnie Sanders Racing and Wright-Day Racing used the day to shake down their previously damaged race cars.

The RSR No. 18 was damaged in the Snowflake 100 when Noah Gragson collided with Johanna Long-Robbins. Hunter Robbins spent the holidays putting the car back together and says the car was pretty fast.

"It’s hard to get a feel for the Pro Late Model because they keep taking power away, so they drive different every time we come back here," Robbins said. "So, I’m trying to learn where the car needs to be but also where I need to be as a driver tomorrow."

Typically, Robbins and Sanders wouldn’t buy a lot of tires but they kind of wish they could only because they have a lot to learn this weekend.

"Our scuffs were from the Snowflake and they had a bad vibration we couldn’t get out of them," Robbins said. "So, we had to basically throw them away and put on some stickers that we’ve had from the Derby so now we’re trying to learn for this week and the Rattler.

"Everyone is in this tough situation but we’re trying to make the most of it."

Hunter Wright pieced his car back together after it was wiped out in several crashed during Speedweeks at New Smyrna. Like Robbins, Friday was just an extended shakedown session.

"It’s hard to say how it feels," Wright said. "We didn’t put on tires, so we don’t know if it has speed yet. From a feel standpoint, I think it’s okay, but it’s also hard to tell. We’ll find out tomorrow when everyone puts on tires."

That’s the great mystery of this race so far.

There will be 39 cars in the capital city of Alabama, but no one really feels like the favorite, even after six hours of practice, most of which took place during the day for a race that will take place under the lights.

Two-time Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway champion Cole Williams, seemingly like everyone else, feels good about what they learned but ultimately can’t say it with a high degree of confidence. And they were one of the few teams, along with Sanders-Robbins, that actually bolted on stickers.

"It didn’t make as much of a difference as I thought it would," Williams said. "But at the same time, every tire is different depending on the batch it came in, but we’re overall happy with the car, so we’ll try to bring it on home tomorrow."

The biggest challenge was just not letting practice send you down a rabbit hole when so much will change tomorrow.

"I think today can get you in the ball park," Williams said. "I don’t think the track will change too much from today to tomorrow. It is a night race, but we turned a lot of laps tonight and I thought that was pretty crucial.

"At the same time, it is going to be cooler when the green flag drops tomorrow so you don’t want to over-adjust."

Craig says you can take bigger swings at the set-up on Friday compared to fine-tuning on Saturday.

"Big shocks, shock changes and different overall packages," Craig said. "Sometimes you find stuff on practice that you will think about changing over on race day."