McMurray steals fastest Happy Hour speed from Harvick

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Jamie McMurray would like nothing better than to play the role of spoiler in Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

McMurray knows the significance of Sunday’s race, which will cut the current field of eight drivers in the Chase down to just four, who will contend in a one-race battle for the championship next Sunday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Although McMurray isn’t in the Chase, a good run would make his day – and potentially spoil the same day for other drivers, including several Chase contenders.

McMurray was fastest in the final Happy Hour practice Saturday afternoon with a field-best speed of 137.106 mph.

“Our car was significantly better, and if we work on it tonight, I think we should be able to race tomorrow and have a good finish,” McMurray said to Fox Sports 1.

McMurray likes PIR and is looking for as good, if not a better run, than his 10th-place finish in this year’s spring race there.

Kevin Harvick, who has been the fastest overall driver thus far this weekend in practice and qualifying, continued his fast ways by nailing down the second-fastest speed in the final practice of 137.065 mph.

Matt Kenseth was third-fastest (137.018 mph), followed by Joey Logano (137.002).

“We’re close,” Logano said. “You’re never perfect, but we feel our like our Shell Pennzoil Ford has good speed in it. “I feel like we’re in the ballpark. Just a couple adjustments, a couple of tweaks and we’ll be there.”

Fifth through 10th-fastest were Dale Earnhardt Jr. (136.830), Jeff Gordon (136.757), Martin Truex Jr. (136.477), Kurt Busch (136.405), Jimmie Johnson (136.395) and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin (136.369).

As for the other Chase drivers, Brad Keselowski was 12th-fastest (136.266 mph), Ryan Newman was 19th (135.890) and Carl Edwards continued to search for speed, clocking in 21st-fastest (135.660).

“Our Fastenal Ford is better than what it was, which is good, because it gives us something to work with,” Edwards said. “When we started practice, it was not good at all.

“Jimmy (crew chief Fennig) and the guys worked real hard, went through different setups, I tried some different stuff on the track, we put stickers on at the end.

“I felt like we had a pretty decent balance, just one little thing I want to work on still.”

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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.