2021 Daytona 500 Winner Michael McDowell Fastest in Tuesday Practices

Credit: DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 15: Michael McDowell, driver of the #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Defending Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell turned the fastest lap of Tuesday’s combined two opening Daytona 500 practice sessions at Daytona International Speedway with a top lap of 192.736 mph in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

David Ragan, a former summer Daytona race winner, was second fastest in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford with a quick lap of 192.666 mph around the 2.5-mile high banks – also setting his fast time in the early session.

Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano topped the late practice – leading a 10-Ford contingent atop the speed chart in that session. Daniel Suarez was the top Chevrolet, putting his No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet 11th quickest. Christopher Bell was the top Toyota in the last session – 23rd fastest among the 42 cars.

It was the first true practice for a points-paying race in 2022 – important because NASCAR is now using Next Gen cars – a new generation of race car that looks as different to fans as it feels for drivers. It’s already getting rave reviews from both contingents after a competitive Busch Light Clash exhibition a week ago in Los Angeles.

And while teams had an opportunity to test on the Daytona high banks in January, Tuesday night’s pair of practice sessions marked the official beginning of the season.

“Practice as you know, is situational,” McDowell said. “We sort of had a game plan going into practice to try and work with our Ford teammates, in particular, with the Roush Fenway Keselowski cars. And so we wanted to get out in that group and just kind of play around with the draft and not put ourselves in a bad situation where you’re two or three-wide but just kind of line up.

“It worked out well where we were lined up four or five of the Fords and catching the Toyota pack. Lap time here is very situational on where you get the draft and where you get the runs. But I feel really good about our Ford Mustang. Had good speed, drove pretty well, did all the things you’re looking to do with minimal practice and not being in that three, four-wide crazy situation.

“So I feel good.”

Teams return to the Daytona track on Wednesday night (8:05 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for Daytona 500 Busch Pole Qualifying – setting the front row for the Feb. 20 Great American Race (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Qualifying this year will feature a slightly different format. There will be two rounds – the first consisting of single-car runs with the top-10 cars advancing to a second round. The fastest two cars from that round will earn the front row starting positions for Sunday’s race.