HOMESTEAD, Fla – Hitting the setup right for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway is typically very difficult. You need good enough long run pace so that you don’t fall behind early, but you really need to be better off on short run speed as well.
That’s an oxymoron I know.
But, since the Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014, five of the six races on the 1.5-mile track have seen a caution come with inside of the final 15 laps of the race. That’s why short run speed is so pivotal.
With Homestead being so abrasive on the Goodyear tires, the final cautions normally meant late race pit stops.
But, all those notes from the past are thrown out. We have a lower horsepower/higher downforce package. We also have a different tire this weekend. That’s why NASCAR elected to give all the drivers a practice session on Saturday instead of qualifying.
See, both Cup practice sessions were rained out on Friday. The only thing scheduled for Saturday was qualifying to set the lineup for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). But, NASCAR thought wise and replaced qualifying with practice to give teams one 50 minute session to get their cars dialed in for the season finale.
In that session, the Joe Gibbs Racing cars looked stout. They went 1-2-3 in single lap speed with Kyle Busch pacing the way in his No. 18 Toyota.
Busch, circled the track with a speed of 168.966 mph. Martin Truex Jr. was P2 with a speed of 168.460 mph in his No. 19 Toyota. Denny Hamlin was third with a lap of 168.277 mph in his No. 11 Toyota.
They were the only ones in the 168 mph barrier.
Instead of Kevin Harvick being fourth, he was P9 with a top speed of 166.806 mph. The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski (167.895 mph), Joey Logano (167.848 mph) and Ryan Blaney (167.307 mph) were 4-5-6 instead.
Luckily for Harvick, Sunday’s race isn’t one lap, it’s 267. Unluckily, the JGR cars looked better than him in long run pace too.
Busch, Truex and Hamlin were 1-2-3 in five lap averages while Harvick was sixth. In 10 lap averages, it was Hamlin-Busch-Truex 1-2-3 with Harvick P7. In 15 lap averages, Truex led the way while Hamlin was seventh and Harvick ninth. Busch, didn’t complete 15 consecutive laps in the final practice.
Right now, JGR looks to be the favorites.