Business as usual. That’s the attitude and spirit all four of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion contenders professed after their final 50-minute practice session to prepare for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin were the first, second and third quickest in the practice. The fourth member of the championship quartet – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was ninth fastest.
All of the drivers seemed satisfied with their time on track and after spending days in South Florida meeting media and sponsorship obligations, they are all ready to race for the big trophy.
“It’s just business as usual,” Harvick confirmed with a smile.
“You can’t really stay on the same path for all the things they force you to do. You can’t really bin your normal routine and you have to know that coming into the week with all things that are just way out of normal from what you would do a weekend where you have the choices of things you could do and how you would schedule them.
“You have to know that coming into the week and just deal with all the extra things and the extra people that come with the week.”
Bad weather on Friday forced an alteration to the weekend schedule. It forced the cancellation of the Cup Series practice scheduled for Friday afternoon, so NASCAR instead decided to replace Saturday’s scheduled qualifying session with a 50-minute practice session and set the starting grid according to owner championship points.
So Hamlin will start his No. 11 JGR Toyota on pole alongside Harvick’s No. 4 SHR Ford. Truex and Busch will start from the second row. The 2018 champion Joey Logano will start fifth.
Three of the four – Harvick (2014), Busch (2015) and Truex (2018) – are former Cup champion, all winning the Homestead race en route to their titles. Hamlin is the only multiple Homestead race winner among the championship eligible group, winning the race in 2009 and 2013. But he is still seeking his first Cup title.
The practice session was relatively smooth for the Championship 4. Truex and Harvick ran the most laps (47), Busch, the fewest (44). Busch led practice with a speed of 168.966 mph, just ahead of Truex (168.460 mph) and Hamlin (168.277).
“I felt pretty close,” Truex said. “We were able to make three long runs. Typically for me, personally, if the car is pretty close, I’ll run a bunch of laps right away. That’s definitely a good sign. The guys did a good job being prepared, making a lot of good assumptions.
“I feel pretty good. I definitely feel like we can get better. Just like every other weekend, how do you get better, can you do the right things, make the right changes tonight for tomorrow, then you go race and see how it plays out.
“Feeling pretty good about things. Hopefully we can get a little bit better. … Like I said, we talked about it during the week, you got to keep doing what got you here, right?”
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