Fords are fast in Saturday morning’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup practice

Ryan Blaney led Saturday practice at Charlotte. (Greg Engle)

CONCORD, N.C. – Ryan Blaney topped the speed chart in Saturday morning’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a best lap at 188.055 mph, but Blaney’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford wasn’t the only fast Fusion in the session.

The Fords from the much-improved Roush Fenway Racing stable appear poised to mount a challenge in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race. Trevor Bayne (186.239 mph) was fifth fastest on Saturday morning, with teammate and recent Talladega winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. close behind at 186.207 mph.

“We unloaded pretty good today, but we know that off-the-truck speed isn’t what matters,” Bayne said. “It’s being able to go on the long runs as the day gets hotter and the track slicks up. I actually felt like we held onto our speed pretty well at the end of practice, so I think both of us have made huge gains.

“I need to give a big shout out to these guys for working their butts off this last week after (last Saturday’s) All-Star Race, when we didn’t have the performance that we wanted. They’ve dialed our cars in a lot.”

SHORT STROKES

There’s one guarantee for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway: there will be tremendous speed coming from the back of the field. Kyle Larson, who will start next-to-last in 39th after his car failed to pass pre-qualifying inspection on Thursday, paced final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice on Saturday with a lap at 186.400 mph. Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was damaged when the car bounced off the Turn 2 wall during Thursday’s opening practice, thereby impeding its progress through the inspection stations…

Led by Larson’s chart-topping performance, Chevrolets appeared to make gains during Happy Hour after lagging behind in earlier practices. Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were sixth, seventh and eighth fastest, respectively, during final practice. That was particularly good news for Earnhardt, who suffered through a miserable Monster Energy All-Star Race last Saturday and fought an ill-handling car during practice and qualifying on Thursday.

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