Harvick maintains blistering speed in Saturday’s first practice

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 15:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, FL – NOVEMBER 15: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 15, 2014 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, Fla.—The fastest car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season asserted its superiority immediately in Saturday’s first practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Driving the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet that has carried him to four victories and 2,083 laps led this year, Kevin Harvick jumped to the top of the speed chart as soon as the noon practice began—and stayed there.

Running 175.069 mph in race trim, Harvick was .007 seconds faster than Jeff Gordon (175.029 mph). No one else posted a lap within a 10th of a second of Harvick in preparation for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), the race that will decide the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship among four drivers—Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman.

In final practice, Harvick was eighth fastest in his first run but cut it short because of issues with the handling of his car. An adjustment didn’t help.

“We’ve got to do something different,” Harvick radioed to crew chief Rodney Childers with roughly 28 minutes left in the 50-minute session. “Bringing it to you.”

Harvick returned to the garage, climbed out of his car and studied the data on a computer perched above the team’s tool box.

Childers made additional adjustments and put new tires on Harvick’s car for the final practice run. Afterwards, Harvick gave his verdict.

“Too loose on exit,” Harvick said. “I got my rhythm down in (Turns) 3 and 4 pretty good. Good on entry and in the center (of the corners). Loose late center and exit on both ends.”

Harvick ended the session where he began, in eighth, with a top speed of 173.099 mph. Of the Championship 4, Logano was quickest, seventh on the speed chart at 173.127 mph but significantly off leader Jimmie Johnson’s 175.200.

“Yeah, we struggled getting the balance right,” Harvick said after the session. “And I don’t think we’ve really hit it exactly where we need it to be yet.

“So, we’ll go back through the stuff that everybody did on our cars and definitely try to improve for tomorrow.”

QUOTES OF THE DAY

“Mind games don’t make that car go any faster.”—Denny Hamlin, when asked whether Kevin Harvick was trying to get into the heads of Championship 4 competitors Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

Asked what he would do to prepare for Sunday’s championship race, Kevin Harvick said, “Eat!”

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