Kevin Harvick leads Saturday AM practice at Fontana

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Seeking to get back on track after consecutive poor finishes at Las Vegas and last weekend at Bristol, Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick was fastest in the first of two Sprint Cup practice sessions on tap for today at Auto Club Speedway.

Harvick took the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to the top of the charts with a lap at 186.018 miles per hour on his second of 26 circuits this session around the two-mile oval.

“We’ve had it on both sides of the fence, tight and loose,” Harvick told Fox Sports toward the end of the practice.

“We’re just trying to fill our notebook so we can make some good decisions tonight and based upon what we’ve seen in the forecast now – it’s going to be sunny tomorrow – I’d say [the car being] a little bit tight wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

Fellow California native Jeff Gordon was second-quickest at 185.677 mph in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, followed by Team Penske’s Joey Logano in third (185.620 mph), Sunday pole sitter Matt Kenseth in fourth (185.319 mph), and one of Harvick’s SHR teammates, Kurt Busch, in fifth (184.943 mph).

Marcos Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson, Bristol winner Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman rounded out the Top 10. The Cup drivers will return for “Happy Hour” later this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET.

SPRINT CUP AT FONTANA – SATURDAY MORNING TIMES

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne