Kyle Larson fastest in final Sprint Cup practice at Michigan; Carl Edwards’ woes continue

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Kyle Larson was the fastest of the 43-driver field in Saturday afternoon’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup practice for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson’s fastest Happy Hour lap was 198.424 mph (at 36.286 seconds).

“I feel like we made really big gains in our Target Chevy throughout the weekend,” Larson told FoxSports1. “Yesterday in practice, I didn’t think we were good at all, and the guys did a good job to turn that thing around.

“Now I feel like we can maneuver around the track pretty well and we have some speed. … Hopefully, we should be good tomorrow.”

Jeff Gordon was second-fastest (198.265 mph), followed by pole-sitter Kevin Harvick (198.238), Jimmie Johnson (198.183) and Brian Vickers (197.797).

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Kasey Kahne (197.509), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (197.374), Kurt Busch (197.368), Kyle Busch (197.336) and Clint Bowyer (197.120).

Of note, there was no Ford drivers among the fastest 10 in the final practice session. Brad Keselowski was the fastest Ford driver with the 14th-best speed.

Austin Dillon was 11th-fastest (197.077), followed by Paul Menard (196.990), Jamie McMurray (196.931), Brad Keselowski (196.823), Ryan Newman (196.743), Justin Allgaier (196.641), Brett Moffitt (196.501), Marcos Ambrose (196.399), AJ Allmendinger (196.362) and Danica Patrick (196.239).

Carl Edwards weekend struggles continued in the final practice, managing to be only 33rd-fastest at 194.663 mph.

“I wouldn’t call that struggling a little bit, we’re in a little bit of trouble,” Edwards said. “The good thing is we’re better than we were and my guys never give up.

“But man, this is tough. We’re off quite a bit and we’re trying to figure out what it is. … This is such a fun racetrack, it means a lot in Ford’s and Roush’s backyard to do well here, so hopefully we can figure it out.”

Late in the session, David Stremme suffered some type of motor issue that produced smoke from his exhaust and sent him directly to the garage for repairs.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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