Sprint Cup practice speeds slower Saturday morning at Chicagoland, Paul Menard tops at 188.772 mph

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JOLIET, Ill. — Paul Menard shot to the top of the speed charts during the first of two practice sessions for the Sprint Cup drivers Saturday morning at Chicagoland Speedway.

Menard covered the 1.5-mile oval with a speed of 188.772 mph, followed by Kasey Kahne (187.780), Kevin Harvick (187.709), Jeff Gordon (187.624) and Carl Edwards (187.370).

Saturday morning’s speeds were significantly slower than Friday’s sole practice session, when Kyle Busch topped the charts at 191.442 mph. A constant rain that began mid-Friday afternoon following the Cup practice and continued overnight washed off all the rubber — and obviously some of Friday’s speed — from the racetrack.

Brian Vickers was sixth-fastest (187.331), followed by Aric Almirola (187.227), Greg Biffle (187.156), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (186.728) and Jimmie Johnson (186.509).

Team Penske’s drivers, who struggled to find in Friday’s sole practice session, continued in their hunt for more mph, with Brad Keselowski managing only the 20th-fastest speed Saturday morning (185.912) and Joey Logano was 25th-fastest (185.325).

One other practice session will be held later this afternoon at 2:00 pm ET.

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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.