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

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”