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

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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

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.