Matt Kenseth fastest in Friday’s Sprint Cup practice at Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kenseth, who was one of only two drivers over 186 mph (186.285 mph), has struggled to reach victory lane this season after earning a series-high seven wins in 2013.

“I felt like we had a really good hour-and-a-half,” Kenseth said. “It was productive, so one of our goals was to get a good lap in case it does rain tomorrow, they always go off first practice speeds and we’ve been bit by that this year.

“We wanted to try to lay down a lap early when the track was as good as it could be and we were able to do that in case there is bad weather for qualifying, then we just worked hard on race trim the whole time. Felt like we got through a lot of stuff. Felt like we gained a lot. I feel like we’re closer than we’ve been in a long time in balance and in speed. Still have a lot of work to do tomorrow, but I felt pretty good about today.”

His 24-lap effort Friday could be more important than just a routine practice session. Heavy thunderstorms are predicted for Saturday, and the second Cup practice is slated to go off between 9 and 11 am ET, followed by qualifying from 2:10 pm to 3:45 pm ET.

If Saturday’s practice and qualifying are washed out, the qualifying field for Sunday’s race would be based upon Friday’s practice session speeds.

Clint Bowyer was the second-fastest in Friday’s session at 186.070 mph, followed by Brad Keselowski (185.939), four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson (185.647) and Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson (185.445).

Sixth- through 10th-fastest were Kurt Busch (185.117 mph), Kyle Busch (185.113), Joey Logano (184.858), Marcos Ambrose (184.740) and Kevin Harvick (184.721).

Tony Stewart, seeking his third Brickyard victory and first win of 2014, was 11th-fastest (183.793), followed by Ryan Newman (183.587), Brian Vickers (183.307), four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon (182.408) and Kasey Kahne was 15th-fastest (182.290).

Danica Patrick was 16th-fastest (182.216 mph), followed by Aric Almirola (181.973), Austin Dillon (181.962), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (181.910) and Carl Edwards was 20th-fastest (181.496).

The rest of the field was:

21 Trevor Bayne 181.477

22 Ryan Truex 181.283

23 Michael Annett 181.061

24 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 180.937

25 Paul Menard 180.897

26 Martin Truex Jr. 180.636

27 Denny Hamlin 180.166

28 Juan Pablo Montoya 180.144

29 Brett Moffitt 180.040

30 David Ragan 179.971

 

31 Greg Biffle 179.842

32 Jamie McMurray 179.194

33 Michael McDowell 179.019

34 Casey Mears 178.923

35 Justin Allgaier 178.593

36 AJ Allmendinger 178.398

37 Travis Kvapil 177.725

38 David Stremme 177.438

39 Reed Sorenson 177.284

40 Landon Cassill 177.050

 

41 Bobby Labonte 176.025

42 Josh Wise 175.771

43 Alex Bowman 175.524

44 David Gilliland 175.022

45 Cole Whitt 174.132

46 Matt Crafton 173.444

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Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.