By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Joe Gibbs Racing comes into this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship battle with a 3-to-1 shot at taking home the title and if Saturday’s final practice is any indication, the championship will have to go through them.
In a makeshift practice session that took the place of qualifying after rain washed almost everything out on Friday, Kyle Busch led the way at 31.959 seconds, 168.966 mph, with teammates Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin in tow. The fourth of the championship drivers, Kevin Harvick, timed in ninth.
The remainder of the top-10 went to the Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney in fourth, fifth, and sixth. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson were seventh and eighth, with Erik Jones rounding out the 10 fastest cars.
“I think practice over qualifying was for sure a good idea just for the field,” Busch said. “Kind of the unknown with everything that’s coming into this weekend to have a shot to work on your racecar instead of just going out there blind and trying to run as fast as you can for a qualifying lap.
“It’s kind of what we all expected,” he added about how the 2019 package ran in practice. “It’s got some similarities to other characteristics of vehicles that I’ve driven here over the course of my career. Kind of think back to some of how that worked out.
“There were definitely times in practice that I kind of tried to get behind people, feel that out, see what was going to happen. I’d say it’s as close to the characteristics of traffic that we’ve had the rest of the year.”
At the end of his media availability, Busch was asked by a UFC fighter about his mentality going into the championship race.
“Don’t give a shit about who you’re fighting, go kick their ass. Feelings aside (smiling).”
Truex seemed to be the most confident of the four drivers, expressing that he was happy with how well his car drove during the 50-minute session.
“I felt pretty good for a lot of new things here at Homestead,” he said. “Definitely a lot different than what we’ve done here in the past, fuel-wise, the way you’re driving the car.
“I felt pretty close. Good 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 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.”
With all the preliminary track time now completed, all there is left to do is line them up and race. The Ford EcoBoost 400 is scheduled for 3:00 pm ET on NBC.