Martin Truex Jr. has been the clear-cut favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship all season. He added to his mystique on Friday when he dominated practice and qualifying for the Ford EcoBoost 400.
He was followed closely by Kyle Busch all afternoon, cementing the long-standing perception that they are the 1a and 1b favorites to clinch the Monster Energy Cup on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Busch and Truex were 1-2 in first practice.
Truex then topped Busch in time trials, but they will start second and third to TRD stablemate Denny Hamlin, who stole the spotlight from the championship chasers. Meanwhile, the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were forced to play catch-up all afternoon.
Harvick showed decent speed in practice, but a miscue during his third round qualifying lap means he will start ninth and worst of all four playoff finalists. Keselowski missed nearly an hour of first practice, with his Team Penske No. 2 suffering a brake failure after just one timed lap.
But he recovered to post the fifth fastest time in qualifying after struggling to even make the final round.
So what does this mean? Absolutely nothing.
It’s good to be fast out of the hauler, but most of Friday was about fine-tuning a qualifying setup. There are two more practice sessions scheduled for Saturday afternoon that will better indicate the complexion of the race itself.
Still, Truex was blistering fast when he tested here in October, and was provided a boost of confidence by his team’s progress on Friday.
„You always want to be fastest, no matter what it is,“ Truex said. „We won today. Again, that doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It will be nice to win again tomorrow. Win again Sunday. That’s what we’re here for.“
Busch won the championship here back in 2015 and actually feels more ahead than he was that weekend. That could spell bad news for the competition.
„We weren’t as good in practice than we were today in ’15, and we qualified third, so we tied that, so we’ll race them out and see what happens here,“ Busch said.
Qualifying well is nice, because it provides a better pit stall, but this is perhaps NASCAR’s best big track. It’s actually fairly easy to pass if a driver has a capable enough car.
That’s what makes Saturday practice extremely important. Those two sessions are all about fine-tuning the car in advance of Sunday.
That said, Keselowski’s continually failing brakes are legitimately a cause for concern.
„No, we haven’t figured that out yet,“ Keselowski said. „Certainly it is a concern for us at this moment.“