Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch fastest in Saturday morning’s Sprint Cup practice at Bristol

Leave a comment

Ryan Newman was fastest in early-morning NASCAR Sprint Cup practice Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Newman’s clocked 58 laps around the .533-mile, high-banked, with his field-setting lap being 127.081 mph at 15.099 seconds.

Stewart Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch both continued to be fast. Harvick was second-fastest in Saturday’s morning practice (126.863), while Busch was third-fastest (126.687).

The elder Busch brother, a five-time career winner at Bristol, was fastest in Friday’s single practice session.

Matt Kenseth (126.670) and Paul Menard (126.545) were fourth- and fifth-fastest. Both drivers have replacements standing by for Sunday’s race just in case, as their wives are due to give berth any day now.

Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 29th fastest (124.517). Denny Hamlin, pole sitter for Sunday’s Food City 500, sixth fastest (126.179).

Joe Nemechek (121.213) and Timmy Hill (120.150) were the slowest.

The field was separated by just under seven mph and .871 of a second.

All 43 drivers qualified for Sunday’s Food City 500 took part in the practice.

The final Happy Hour practice takes part later this morning at Noon ET.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Below are Saturday morning’s first practice speeds:

1 Ryan Newman 127.081 mph

2 Kevin Harvick 126.863

3 Kurt Busch 126.687

4 Matt Kenseth 126.670

5 Paul Menard 126.545

 

6 Denny Hamlin 126.179

7 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 126.104

8 Martin Truex Jr. 126.063

9 Kyle Busch 126.038

10 Kasey Kahne 126.988

 

11 Brad Keselowski 125.955

12 Clint Bowyer 125.773

13 Marcus Ambrose 125.757

14 Jimmie Johnson 125.740

15 Joey Logano 125.510

 

16 Casey Mears 125.494

17 Jeff Gordon 125.428

18 Carl Edwards 125.313

19 David Gilliland 125.150

20 David Ragan 125.142

 

21 Jamie McMurray 125.117

22 Brian Vickers 125.101

23 Justin Allgaier 125.085

24 AJ Allmendinger 125.011

25 Aric Almirola 124.954

 

26 Danica Patrick 124.841

27 Auston Dillon 124.654

28 Kyle Larson 124.646

29 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 124.517

30 Tony Stewart 124.436

 

31 Greg Biffle 124.291

32 Travis Kvapil 124.275

33 Michael Annett 124.170

34 Alex Bowman 123.762

35 Landon Cassill 123.666

 

36 Cole Whitt 123.666

37 Michael McDowell 123.491

38 Reed Sorenson 123.467

39 Josh Wise 123.047

40 Parker Kligerman 122.937

 

41 Ryan Truex 122.764

42 Joe Nemechek 121.213

43 Timmy Hill 120.150

Matty Brabham working towards IndyCar comeback

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Australian American young gun Matty Brabham is hoping to work towards a comeback in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Brabham, 23, was along with RC Enerson the two top young guns who raced a handful of 2016 races but didn’t get a proper encore in 2017. Brabham has instead specialized in racing in Robby Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Trucks series, where he leads that championship and hopes to win it this weekend in Lake Elsinore, Calif.

While his PIRTEK Team Murray deal was announced two years ago in December in a technical partnership with KV Racing Technology for 2016, Brabham didn’t get the chance to build on that beyond the two races he did at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Indianapolis 500 itself. An impressive qualifying run at the road course saw him nearly make Q2, while he fought an ill-handling race car in the ‘500 all month to finish his debut.

Being out of the cockpit hasn’t meant a lack of work, with Brabham having kept his face present at a number of IndyCar races working to put together meetings, occasionally driving two-seaters and then staying active in the trucks.

“All the racing stuff comes naturally as I’ve grown up in it around my dad (Geoff), and from my grandfather (the late Sir Jack) as well, that’s been the easy part,” Brabham told NBC Sports. “It’s the off-track stuff, finding sponsorship and the money to continue racing, that’s been the hardest battle to get into IndyCar or any motorsport.

“It’s been challenging but I’ve learned a lot on the business end. What a lot of people forget is that I went straight from high school straight into racing, so I don’t have a ton of business experience to learn about how to find sponsorship. It’s been a lot of learning as you go.

“Obviously you have to work on business deals and try to find companies. I’m involved with a lot of traveling, and I’ve been at a lot of the shows, PRI and SEMA and the main ones. The biggest thing is networking and talking to people, and learning from them, and go about doing it.”

As the Verizon IndyCar Series is riding a tidal wave of young talent gathering either part-time or full-time rides, Brabham is one of a handful that sticks out as being absent.

The 2018 field includes recent Indy Lights graduates Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones, Spencer Pigot and Gabby Chaves – each of the last four champions – along with other drivers Max Chilton, Zach Veach, Matheus Leist and Jack Harvey who’ve all graduated within the last three years. That number could grow if either or both of Zachary Claman DeMelo and/or Santiago Urrutia find seats.

Brabham, Enerson and Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion, are probably the three drivers most deserving of a full-time IndyCar shot for 2018 with recent MRTI experience that hasn’t got it yet. None has driven more than 15 races in the series, Karam only having had a partial 2015 campaign with three other one-offs at the Indianapolis 500.

Seeing the success his counterparts from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires have had hasn’t angered or frustrated Brabham, as it’s shown how capable the ladder is of preparing drivers for IndyCar. A switch to the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit next year is also key to note.

“When there’s a big change, you’re seeing guys with the guys I’m racing with in MRTI,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to show what they could do next year. I’d love to be a part of it. Envious of the guys testing so far. Everyone’s said it’s like a real race car that’s a bit more challenging to drive.

“But it’s really cool to have that going along, and be a part of. For the young guys, it’s quite difficult for them to jump in for one race, and compete against veterans for some time. It takes them a couple years to show results and win races. There’s plenty of young guys who could do so with the right environment, step into the series.

“It’s great seeing Jack, Spencer, and all these guys I competed with on MRTI do well – and I won championships – so it’s a little frustrating, but it’s great to see them get in and do well because I feel I could do just as well.”

Brabham was close to stepping into the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda last year when Sebastien Bourdais was injured, but didn’t quite have the funding to make it happen. Such an opportunity would have seen him filling in for his 2016 teammate, who he had nothing but high praise for.

“I think there were a couple of us in conversation – but it’s a sad thing when it happens and you never want to see it; plus, Bourdais was my first teammate,” he said. “He was great and very helpful. You hate to see it. Lots of conversations went on in the background, certain people put my name forward and my name was in the mix.”

Alas, his talent is still there, and it’s worth remembering past Team USA Scholarship recipient Brabham beat Pigot to the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title when the two were teammates at Cape Motorsports and then he followed up with a crushing performance en route to the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title.

It’s a common story for young drivers that talent isn’t the lone qualifier for an opportunity, but Brabham is hopeful he hasn’t faded from the radar.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations and in constant talks with the team owners and with sponsors as well. There’s nothing set in stone but I am working towards things,” he said.

“I’m kind of right on the edge of getting in there, will just take that last little bit of funding – which is the same for everyone else. I just need the lucky break to get in there for a couple races, show what I can do. I’m hungry and will work extremely hard. I know I can do it – it’s just a matter of getting that chance.”