Brad Keselowski fastest, title contender Kevin Harvick 2nd in opening Cup practice at Homestead

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NASCAR’s Championship 4 are front and center this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Brad Keselowski still wants to end his season with a bang.

Keselowski, who was eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup in last week’s Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix, knocked off title contender Kevin Harvick late with a lap of 179.004 mph to earn top honors in today’s first practice session for the Cup Series.

Harvick had shot to P1 with about 10 minutes remaining in the session with his lap of 178.950 mph, only to have Keselowski eclipse him with his flyer a couple of minutes later.

Altogether, Stewart-Haas Racing appears to have some fast bullets ready for qualifying later this afternoon. In addition to Harvick’s P2 lap, SHR teammates Danica Patrick (third, 178.767) and Kurt Busch (sixth, 177.772) also put up stout speeds.

Matt Kenseth and rookie Kyle Larson were fourth and fifth, respectively. Following Kurt Busch in sixth was Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, another member of the Championship 4 in Ryan Newman (177.620), and Kyle Busch to complete the Top 10.

As for the rest of the Championship 4, Denny Hamlin ended up 11th (177.497) and Joey Logano was the slowest of the quartet in 22nd (175.838). Hamlin, however, was brimming with optimism after the session.

“It’s got great long-run speed, which is going to be important,” he told Fox Sports of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “When I say long-run, I mean after three or four laps. It feels like a car I can go out and compete for a win with.

“It’s still early in the weekend, but overall, I’m really encouraged with what I’ve seen so far.”

Paul Menard was 25th-fastest, but posted the quickest 10-consecutive-lap average at 169.771 mph (Laps 7-16, 28 total laps run).

Qualifying will take place later tonight at 6:15 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead – First Practice Times

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.