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.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”