HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After nearly 24 hours of waiting, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field hit the track Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for its most important practice session of the year.
By the end of the 50-minute period, Kyle Busch fired the first shot among the Championship 4 with the fastest lap of the day at 31.959 seconds (168.966 mph), but the quartet still appeared evenly matched.
Busch held the fastest five-consecutive lap average, while Denny Hamlin led the 10-lap average and Martin Truex Jr. ruled the roost when it came to 15 consecutive lap averages at the 1.5-mile oval.
That meant there were no true answers as to who holds the advantage going into Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400, which will crown a champion for 2019.
In Busch’s case, he was happy with the decision to replace the scheduled qualifying session with a full practice, noting that he learned some things he’ll be able to use come Sunday afternoon.
“I thought with the way the schedule was, and the way it was laid out as far as a compromise, it was the best way and the best thing to do,” Busch said. “I think practice over qualifying was for sure a good idea, just for the field. With the unknown of everything coming into this weekend, to have a shot to work on your race car instead of just going out there blind and trying to run as fast as you can for a qualifying lap is a good thing and I think helped us a little bit.
“Overall, it’s what I would have done. I think it’s kind of what we all expected,” Busch continued, pointing out the lower-horsepower, high-downforce aerodynamic package. “It’s got some similarities to other characteristics of vehicles that I’ve driven here over the course of my career. I thought back to some of how that worked out, but there were definitely times in practice that I kind of tried to get behind people and feel that out, just to see what was going to happen.
“I’d say it’s as close to the characteristics of traffic that we’ve had the rest of the year.”
Truex was second on single-lap time at 32.055 seconds (168.460 mph), while Hamlin ended practice third at 32.090 seconds (168.277 mph).
Ford drivers Brad Keselowski finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on the speed charts.
Aside from the JGR trio, Kevin Harvick was the furthest back of the Championship 4 drivers, ending Saturday ninth on the practice charts but quietly confident about his Ford Mustang for the race.
“It went good,” Harvick said of his practice time. “We missed our travels a little bit the first run, but got our car a lot better. It is just business as usual now.”
Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship race goes green just after 3 p.m. ET, with live coverage on NBC, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.