Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin top Friday practice speed chart at Bristol

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Being a five-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch has obviously learned a few things about getting around the nearly half-mile bullring.

And when it comes to putting those lessons into practice, what better way to do so than – what else – in practice itself.

Knocking on the door of a 130 mph lap, the elder Busch brother was the fastest in Friday’s early afternoon practice session at BMS, covering the .533-mile surface at 129.789 mph (at 14.784 mph).

Five other drivers exceeded 129 mph with their best efforts: Jeff Gordon (129.421), Denny Hamlin (129.351), Carl Edwards (129.317), Marcos Ambrose (129.238) and last week’s Las Vegas race winner Brad Keselowski (129.203).

Parker Kligerman, who has struggled in the first three races of his rookie Sprint Cup season, had a hard time finding speed, coming in second-slowest at 123.300 mph, followed by Timmy Hill, last on the practice grid at 119.010 mph.

Here’s how the practice session played out for the 45 drivers who will attempt to make the 43-car field later today in qualifying:

1 Kurt Busch 128.789 mph

2 Jeff Gordon 129.421

3 Denny Hamlin 129.351

4 Carl Edwards 129.317

5 Marcos Ambrose 129.238

6 Brad Keselowski 129.203

7 Ryan Newman 128.779

8 Casey Mears 128.589

9 Martin Truex Jr. 128.425

10 Joey Logano 128.417

11 Kevin Harvick 128.417

12 Paul Menard 128.279

13 Aric Almirola 128.253

14 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 128.168

15 Michael McDowell 128.116

16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 128.031

17 AJ Allmendinger 127.920

18 Kasey Kahne 127.673

19 Kyle Busch 127.580

20 Clint Bowyer 127.563

21 Landon Cassill 127.529

22 David Gilliland 127.487

23 Austin Dillon 127.470

24 Cole Whitt 127.470

25 Brian Vickers 127.368

26 Jamie McMurray 127.317

27 Jimmie Johnson 127.250

28 Greg Biffle 127.199

29 Kyle Larson 127.064

30 Matt Kenseth 127.039

31 David Ragan 126.888

32 Tony Stewart 126.846

33 Michael Annett 126.829

34 Danica Patrick 126.495

35 Alex Bowman 126.478

36 Dave Blaney 126.470

37 David Reutimann 126.337

38 Josh Wise 126.013

39 Travis Kvapil 125.988

40 Ryan Truex 125.077

41 Reed Sorenson 124.436

42 Joe Nemechek 123.857

43 Parker Kligerman 123.300

44 Timmy Hill 119.010

45 Justin Allgaier – no speed/time recorded

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Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”