NASCAR: Kevin Harvick fastest in first practice at Richmond

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After the NASCAR Nationwide Series contingent nearly got washed away on Thursday, the Sprint Cup Series has begun its weekend at Richmond International Raceway with a three-hour first practice session that was thankfully dry.

It’s worth noting that the extended session, which was topped by Kevin Harvick at 129.112 miles per hour, gave teams an opportunity to get used to the new tires that Goodyear has brought to the track this weekend.

The set-up comes from a tire test at RIR back in July that featured Denny Hamlin, Cole Whitt, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle turning laps.

Compared to those used during this past spring’s race at RIR, these tires feature a mold shape change on the left sides (additional stagger) and construction/compound changes on the right sides (better wear, laying down more rubber).

Brad Keselowski was second-fastest behind Harvick at 128.805 mph. He was followed by teammate Joey Logano in third at 128.712 mph, Brian Vickers in fourth at 128.419 mph, and Carl Edwards in fifth at 128.605 mph.

Rounding out Positions 6-10 were Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

Among that group, Larson (-24 points behind 16th) and Newman (+42 points above 16th) can make the Chase on points alone following Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400, which serves as the regular season finale.

Vickers and McMurray, however, are among the group of drivers that can only crack the post-season with a victory at RIR.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to start a short time from now (1-2:20 p.m. ET), with qualifying later tonight at 5:40 p.m. ET.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).