Clint Bowyer leads opening practice for Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway

At the end of the first practice, it’d be Clint Bowyer topping the charts with a lap of 38.832 seconds (185.414 mph) in his No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota.

“This is a fun race track,” he said. “For as big as it is, it’s always a lot of fun when it widens out on the race — running high, running low and duking and driving.  It always seems to race pretty well.  For the size of this race track, we all enjoy ourselves pretty well out there.  Looking forward to it.”

In four races so far this year, Bowyer has two top 10 finishes, with his worst finish being 27th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Currently sitting fourth in points, Bowyer is trying to keep the momentum going after finishing second in points last year to Brad Keselowski.

“Had a strong run last week (at Bristol) and hopefully we can continue this momentum and keep building,” Bowyer continued. “This is a good time of the year to get your mojo rolling and get a good points base established so you can roll into the summer months being able to race as hard as you want and take as many chances as you want.”

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Denny Hamlin would time in second, 0.0124 seconds off of Bowyer. Hamlin has been in the news lately as a result of a comment that NASCAR didn’t agree with at Phoenix International Raceway. Hamlin was penalized and said he wouldn’t pay the fine, but chose not to appeal. Hamlin is also looking for a good run this weekend after a poor finish last weekend due to a flat tire late in the race. Last weekend may be a weekend that the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota would like to forget after a run-in with Joey Logano.

A.J. Allmendinger was third, 0.169 seconds off of Bowyer in his No. 51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet. Allmendinger will be running some races for Phoenix Racing while running some Indy Car races for Penske Racing, including the Indianapolis 500.

Last week’s pole sitter and fourth place finisher Kyle Busch was fourth, followed by Logano.

Greg Biffle was sixth, followed by Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart.

Points leader Brad Keselowski was 20th, 0.570 seconds off of Bowyer.

“We have done everything but win a race,” Keselowski said of his season so far. “That is where our focus is at this weekend for sure. We’ve certainly got a strong, consistent start but we have been in position on the final restart of each race to win and have come up just a little bit short. Hopefully we can close that out this weekend. I think we have got the car to do it and the team to do it. We are ready to get on track and get going. We have practice and qualifying here today and I am curious how this race is going to play out. I honestly think this is going to be an exceptional race.”

Qualifying takes place later today at 7pm EST.

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