Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images via NASCAR

Chastain Leads Cup Title Contenders in Practice at Phoenix

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The momentum is firmly on Ross Chastain’s side on NASCAR Cup Series championship weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

Coming off his headline grabbing move at Martinsville to punch his ticket into the season finale with a shot at the title, Chastain topped the board in the lone Cup Series practice of the weekend, besting the field and the other title contenders with a lap of 27.019 seconds, 133.240 mph.

“Obviously being fastest is encouraging,” Chastain’s crew chief Phil Surgen said. “Certainly, some opportunity to improve. Our short run speed is good, our mid run speed probably could use a little bit. That’s where we’ll focus our efforts tonight, on just keeping the far better longer.”

Ryan Blaney was second fastest, followed by Kyle Busch in his final start for Joe Gibbs Racing in third. Tyler Reddick, who is running his last race for Richard Childress Racing this weekend, was fourth, with Kevin Harvick rounding out the top five.

Fellow Championship 4 drivers Joey Logano and Chase Elliott finished the 50-minute session in seventh and 10th place, while the fourth driver in the battle for the Bill France Cup – Christopher Bell – will have some work to do after finishing practice in 20th place.

Logano’s crew chief Paul Wolfe was happy with the session the No. 22 team turned in, noting afterwards that they will get to work overnight to dial the car in even further.

“I thought overall it went pretty well,” Wolfe said. “We had a fairly extensive practice plan for 50 minutes. Was encouraged we were able to get through the items we wanted to do.

“Still have a lot of sorting through everything and debriefing with Joey to do. I’m sure it will be a late night until 8:30 tomorrow morning when we got to be in line to qualify.

“Overall was pleased. All the Penske cars had pretty good speed out of the gate. Our teammates were able to try some items as well. We have a lot of stuff to look at and make some decisions on.”

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott, was likewise content with the way the No. 9 Chevrolet performed in practice, with more work ahead leading into qualifying.

“Our car is decent,” Gustafson said. “It’s not perfect. I do feel like it’s competitive, and we need to make it a little bit better. Some good attributes, some things we want to make better.”

Despite their struggles, Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens was not dismayed by the speed the No. 20 team had in practice, but explained that pay day doesn’t come until Sunday and was confident the team could find some speed for the rest of the weekend.

“We just didn’t unload as good as we hoped or thought that we would,” Stevens said. “The speed charts showed it. I think that assessment of the speed on the charts was close to how we felt our car was.

“But they’re not handing out any trophies today. We feel like we can definitely identify our issues and find some differences between our cars and setups, our car and our teammates’ that were a little bit more competitive. Should be able to exploit those overnight and be more competitive tomorrow.

“Certainly not what we wanted for the first part of the weekend.”

With practice complete, qualifying is next up on the docket at 3:35 pm ET on Saturday. The 312-lap NASCAR Cup Series Championship race is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on Sunday. Qualifying will air on USA Network, while the Cup race will be televised on NBC.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.