Martin Truex Jr. overcomes brush with wall to lead Happy Hour

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – In opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Championship 4 driver Martin Truex Jr. brushed the outside wall hard enough to scraped the paint off the right rear of his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.

Truex’s team took great care in repairing that area of the car, which is extremely sensitive from aerodynamic standpoint. Clearly, it was a job well done.

In final practice, Truex posted the fastest lap—by a bunch. He toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 31.543 seconds (171.195 mph). Clint Bowyer was a distant second at 169.790 mph. Kyle Busch was the second-fastest Playoff driver, sixth overall at 169.492 mph.

“I thought we were pretty close,” Truex said after Happy Hour. “Need to get the balance a little better, but I think we definitely have enough speed to do what we need to do. Just have to get the balance right.

“Conditions, trying to plan on finishing this race at night is part of what we’re trying to figure out. I think we changed enough and made enough adjustments today and we learned a lot. That gives us a lot to look at tonight and make the right decisions based off of that.”

As the series leader in victories with seven, Truex is quietly confident entering the season finale. He’ll start on the outside of the front row next to pole winner Denny Hamlin.

“I feel really good,” Truex said. “We’ve been in this position before – I’ve raced for a championship here twice now. Came out on top of one and not the other – I’m 50-50, and those are pretty good odds with four of us, I’d say.

“I feel good, we’ve got good speed, and I just need to make sure we get the balance right for tomorrow and you never know how these things are going to play out. We’ll just try to do our normal deal and make smart decisions and be around at the end of this thing and have a shot at it.”

In a move that should delight drivers and crew chiefs alike, NASCAR on Saturday informed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams they could purchase one additional set of new tires for use in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Teams will now have 10 sets of new tires in addition to their qualifying tires, which drivers must use to start the Ford Eco-Boost 400. Last season teams had 13 sets of tires available…

Championship 4 driver Kevin Harvick sat out the first 15 minutes of final practice because of two inspection failures last weekend at Phoenix. When he did hit the track, Harvick was 18th fastest in single-lap speed at 166.795 mph, slowest among the four title contenders. Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were sixth and 11th fastest, respectively. The longer the run, the better Harvick’s car was relative to the others. “Everything is fine right now,” he said after Happy Hour. “We kept the car clean and I feel like we have speed, and the car hangs on really good. Everything is good so far.”