Martin Truex Jr. overcomes brush with wall to lead Happy Hour
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 #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."
NASCAR manufacturers enjoy friendly rivalry
Off the race track and outside the showroom, NASCAR's three manufacturers-Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota-enjoy a friendly rivalry, though the car makers aren't averse to a few well-place digs at each other.
Toyota North America group vice president of marketing Ed Laukes, for example, was quick to remind Chevrolet U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports Jim Campbell that Chevy didn't have a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4.
Ford and Toyota are set to decide the title between them in Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Chevrolet, on the other hand has all four title contenders in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
"I'm going to congratulate Jim on his championship in the XFINITY Series, and then at that point I'm glad he made his remarks so Dave (Pericak, global director of Ford Performance) and I can take it from this point forward," Laukes quipped. "Anything else you want to add before you move on?"
"I want to thank you for William Byron," Campbell retorted, referring to Byron's move from a Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra to a JR Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro this season. Next year, Busch will drive a Chevrolet in the Cup series for Hendrick Motorsports.
The banter aside, Campbell talked proudly of the introduction of the Camaro ZL1 in the Cup series next year and wistfully about the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from NASCAR's foremost series.
"The Earnhardt family and Chevrolet have a long history together," Campbell said. "We all watched Dale Jr. grow up around the track. He worked in his father's dealership, the lube rack, changed oil as a mechanic and technician...
"He worked his way up with his brother and his sister, Kerry and Kelley, then graduates into XFINITY, wins 24 races, then two championships. That was back to back. It was incredible. Moves up to the Cup Series, obviously, at DEI, then later with Hendrick. Delivered 26 wins."
Asked whether Ford might counter Chevrolet's elevation of the Camaro with a move to the Mustang in the Cup series, Pericak was noncommittal.
"We always look at what's going on in the showroom, where we're going with our product development cycle plan," Pericak said. "We introduced the new Fusion a couple years ago. We will be looking at introducing a new car in the future. We have not submitted anything as of yet, but stay tuned."
NASCAR, Goodyear announce multiyear renewal of partnership
NASCAR and The Goodyear Tire & Rubber company first became partners in racing in 1954, and neither entity saw any reason to change that relationship.
On Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR and Goodyear announced a multiyear extension to the partnership that will keep Goodyear as the exclusive tire supplier for all three of the sanctioning body's top national touring series-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck.
"We've had a storied history with Goodyear, more than 64 years, a great long-running partnership," said NASCAR president Brent Dewar. "We're entering into a new multiyear agreement with Goodyear. We're very proud of that. We've been entering this phase of increased collaboration with the race teams and the drivers, through the council process, and we're really proud of what Goodyear brings.
"When we talk about what makes great racing, it's where the rubber meets the road, and the tracks-each of the tracks is very different. I had the pleasure of going to Akron, going to the facilities with (Goodyear president) Rich (Kramer) and the team, to see these made-in-America, hand-crafted specialty tires designed for each of the unique tracks, whether it's the surface, whether it's the banking, whether it's the size of the track... it's truly remarkable.
"This is about innovation. NASCAR is a sport founded on innovation, and as we look to the future, partnering with the research and development with Goodyear, we could not be more proud of that."
Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott has a profound appreciation of the stability the long-term relationship with Goodyear has brought to the sport.
"To put these tires through what we put them through is definitely unfair to them," Elliott said. "We're asking them to do a lot of things that shouldn't work, with the cars so close to the ground and very little air getting to the tires to help them cool off. All those things matter, and as time goes, we're making those things nothing but harder and harder by sealing them off and the things we do to try to make 'em go fast.
"Confidence is everything, especially when you're driving off into the corner, at however fast we're driving off into the corner these days. It's good to know that you've got some confidence underneath you, and it has been there for a long time."
Under the agreement, Goodyear remains the "Official Tire of NASCAR."
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."
--- By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service ---