Kasey Kahne likes driving at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He really likes it. And in the first practice, he showed it, topping the speed charts at 183.874 mph. He turned a lap nearly two-tenths faster than the next closest competitor, Kurt Busch.
Kahne explained in his teleconference earlier this week exactly why he likes to drive Atlanta so much.
"I wish we could race at Atlanta more than twice. For me, it's been my favorite track since I came into NASCAR. It's fast, it's a little bit rough, real line-sensitive...you can [drive] from the white line to the wall. Atlanta really suits me."
Kahne is one of several favorites heading into Atlanta, joining Carl Edwards and the elder Busch (in the chassis with which he won the All-Star race), who has gone to Victory Lane in two of the last three Atlanta races.
Those hoping to unseat Clint Bowyer from his 12th position in the standings (100 points ahead of Jamie McMurray in 13th and 101 points ahead of 14th-place Mark Martin) will be disappointed by his third-fastest practice lap of 182.633 mph.
Bowyer's teammate Jeff Burton and Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Hamlin also turned in the most impressive average speed (total laps run are considered), running 50 laps at a blazing 176.774 mph.
Roush Racing looked strong in the opening practice, with Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle working their way into the top 10. The aforementioned Edwards was still searching for speed, placing outside the top 20.
Rookie-of-the-year lock Kevin Conway trailed the field as the slowest car in the Robby Gordon Motorsports No. 7.
Casey Mears (in the No. 13 for the second week after replacing Max Papis) turned in the fastest lap of the "go-or-go-homers."
There were no major incidents during practice, and nearly all top speeds were posted during the drivers' first lap, due to cooler track temperatures early in the session.
It should be noted that practices are during the daytime in Atlanta, while the race takes place on Sunday evening. The track is hotter and slicker than it will be for the race, and practice times can be somewhat deceptive. Adaptability will need to be built into the cars for the expected changing track conditions.
After Happy Hour later this afternoon, Cup qualifying will take place at 4:40 pm EDT.
Update: Second practice is now complete. Many cars made qualifying runs. The top 10 were: Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and Tony Stewart.