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

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”