Kurt Busch tops Cup final practice at Michigan

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Kurt Busch, who will start alongside pole sitter Carl Edwards in tomorrow’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, led the final practice for the Cup contingent earlier this morning with a lap at 197.368 miles per hour in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet.

Busch has had strong pace in recent weeks, but has yet to convert it into a win that can solidify him as a contender for a wild-card spot in the Chase (he’s currently 15th in the standings). Nonetheless, he senses that a breakthrough is getting closer.

“…Now we’ve just got to step into the race and that’s where we’ve got to close the deal,” he said on Friday. “We haven’t been as strong as we’ve needed to be in the last section of the race, like after the last pit stop or with two pit stops to go, that’s where we have to find a little bit more improvement. But otherwise, these Furniture Row guys are phenomenal, and we’re knocking on the door.”

Kasey Kahne, who starts third on Sunday, was second-quickest in “Happy Hour” with a lap at 197.066 mph. He was followed by Mark Martin in third (196.073), championship leader Jimmie Johnson in fourth (195.886), and Edwards in fifth (195.721).

Michigan’s own Brad Keselowski was 10th-fastest in the session (195.143) and defending race champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 18th on the charts (194.558).

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.