By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Carl Edwards, one of four drivers left in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, is still seeking his first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. After Saturday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, it really looks like Edwards could be in a great position to finally add a huge piece of hardware to his mantle.
Edwards, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, was third-fastest in the first practice session of the day, and he followed that up by recording the second-fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice session. However, the more impressive thing was that his crew chief Dave Rogers hasn’t traded single lap speed for long run performance. In addition to being really fast on the single-lap speed charts, Edwards was also able to muscle past the competition in 10 consecutive lap averages as well.
In fact, Edwards had the fastest 10 consecutive lap average of anyone in Saturday’s two practice sessions, and he ranked higher than all Chase competitors in this category in both practice sessions.
It was a mixed bag for the other three drivers Chasing the Sprint Cup on Saturday.
Jimmie Johnson paced the morning practice session, but could only muster the 10th-fastest lap in final practice. Johnson also had a nervous moment when he ran over a hose that had fallen on the track from another race car. Luckily, the debris didn’t cause any damage to Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS.
“No, no damage from the hose, just a little scratch,” Johnson said. “With the car we really hit on some things in the final practice. Driving much better, great speed, short run speed, long run speed, we made some good improvements there at the end of that.”
Joey Logano on the other hand was on the bottom-half of the top-10 all day as he was sixth in the opening session and eighth in the afternoon session. The glaring weakness for Logano and his crew chief Todd Gordon on Saturday was long-run speed.
Logano ranked 21st in 10 consecutive lap average speed in final practice, and he knew after practice that his team has some work to do.
“We’re OK. We need to work on our stuff a little bit,” said Logano. I know we’ve been on both sides of the fence, and we haven’t been the fastest yet, so we’ll keep working on it.”
The biggest surprise on Saturday was the sluggish nature of Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team. Busch, who is defending his 2015 championship, was the worst Chase competitor in both Saturday practices. In the opening session Busch was a mediocre 28th. Busch and his crew chief Adam Stevens did improve the M&M’s Toyota in the afternoon session, but they were still just 14th-fastest in the session.
Friday during the Championship Four owner press conferences, Joe Gibbs said that his two teams battling for the championship would not be sharing information. Although many were skeptical as to how true that statement would be, a look at the running order in practice seems like Gibbs was definitely being genuine.
Unfortunately for Edwards, practice results mean very little once the race starts on Sunday, but the driver of the No. 19 Toyota Camry seemingly has a performance and mental edge over his fellow Chase competitors heading into Sunday’s penultimate race.