It may only be a practice session for Sunday's 65th-annual Daytona 500, but seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson ended Friday's session at the 2.5-mile superspeedway atop the speed charts.
Obviously, it came in the draft, but Johnson's session-topping lap time was a 46.338 sec. circuit, which equates to a 194.225 mph lap. Johnson's lap in his No. 84 Carvana LEGACY MOTOR CLUB Chevrolet Camaro narrowly edged out his former teammate Chase Elliott. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro had a top time that was just 0.007 sec. off of Johnson's speed.
While Johnson had the top speed of the session, the 47-year-old future NASCAR Hall of Famer says to hold off on awarding him the Harley J. Earl trophy for now. The man is still learning the NextGen car.
"I honestly think it's too early to read far into this," Johnson stated. "It is plate racing. That was just a practice session. We didn't make any mistakes and did some things right to end up where we did, but the other races that are run, once we are able to figure out what races those are to see where I stack up, if it's a short track, mile, mile-and-a-half, road course, whatever it might be. Those are all different unique challenges that come with it."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, and Aric Almirola slotted in third through fifth on the speed chart, while Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, and Zane Smith rounded out the top 10 lap turners in the practice.
There were no incidents during the practice, but drivers were definitely mixing it up aggressively in the packs throughout the session.
Johnson topping NASCAR Cup Series practice on Friday was a fun moment for lovers of nostalgia, but Johnson also sounded like a driver that is gaining confidence after Friday's practice.
"I'm remembering little details as I make laps and get into the zone. Like, 'Yeah, this works, this doesn't work one direction,' Turn 4 is always tricky, pit road entry, pit lane exit, blend line. All of the details are coming back. It's still really there. But that will help you run in the middle of the pack. But to win the race, you gotta be on your game. That's the part I'm still trying to refine and why I ran every lap I could just now, and I plan to again tomorrow," Johnson explained.
It drives like a stock car. It doesn't drive like an IndyCar, thank god. We all know how that went.
While he's still unlocking the keys to what it takes to drive the new NextGen car, Johnson says that his LEGACY MOTOR CLUB team does have really good cars at Daytona this weekend.
"I think that we have a really good driving race car," Johnson said. "I think the Hendrick cars have a little bit more speed than anything else I saw on the track, which qualifying is pretty obvious with that. But it's still early. anything can still happen. I'm glad to be in here, and glad we're at the top of the board. I'm sure the headlines would read a little differently if we were on the other end of it."
Can Jimmie Johnson go on to win the 2023 Daytona 500? It's possible. But it's still a little too early to tell how he stacks up.
Photo Credit: Craig White / TobyChristie.com