Championship weekend is finally here. Today we were able to see the cars on the track for the final time before the final four compete for the inaugural Monster Energy Championship trophy. The MENCS had one practice Friday (mostly qualifying runs), set the starting lineup Friday evening and had two practices to dial in their cars Saturday.
I hope you enjoyed the Garage Talk Notes this year. I am working to add some contacts at the tracks to make it even better in 2018.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the final practice at Saturday…
The weather for final practice was partly sunny and 80 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is sunny and 82 degrees. The track conditions in final practice should translate into similar conditions for the race Sunday.
Eight MENCS drivers participated in a tire test session at Homestead on October 25th and 26th. The drivers included: Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne
Pit Stalls for the Championship 4: Martin Truex Jr. (Stall 4) with Joey Logano behind him and an opening on the way out. Kyle Busch (Stall 10) with Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him with an opening on the way out. Brad Keselowski (Stall 14) with AJ Allmendinger behind him with an opening on the way out. Kevin Harvick (Stall 13) with Ray Black Jr. in front of him and an opening on the way in. Each driver should be fine with their pit selection for Sunday.
Tires will be the story of the race Sunday. Each team was provided 10 sets of tires. Teams used 11 sets in 2014 and 2016 and 12 sets in 2015. This means the teams will have to figure out a way to manage their tire usage in the race. This should benefit Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe. They are the best at creating a strategy to manage their tires.
Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Matt Dibenedetto and Cole Whitt penalized 15 minutes in final practice for failing inspection at Phoenix.
Jimmie Johnson, Michael McDowell and David Ragan penalized 30 minutes I final practice for failing inspection at Phoenix and Homestead.
Chase Elliott: Chase was working at running the top of the racetrack. He scraped the wall in the morning practice and had cosmetic damage to the right rear. The team spent most of the morning practice fixing the damage. The No. 24 team qualified 18th. Something seems to be off with this team this week.
Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie had a lot of speed in Friday’s practice but it did not translate into a good lap time in qualifying on Friday. Jimmie starts from the 22nd position. He was fighting a tight racecar in both practices Saturday. Chad Knaus worked to free him up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The last race for Junior is here. I am not sure how fast the car will be but it sure looks good. Earnhardt is running a throwback paint scheme to his first year in the Cup Series. There weekend did not start well. The No. 88 car blew an engine in Friday’s practice. He will have to start from the back in his last race. Dale made some long runs in final practice. He said, “The car is loose in and off the corner and tight in the center.” Despite his complaints about the car, Earnhardt was turning fast laps. His goal this week is to lead some laps and finish the race.
Kasey Kahne: This will be the last race in the No. 5 car for Kahne. He said he wants to go out on top, so I look for him to be motivated to run well. Kasey will be a good candidate to score a lot of position differential points Sunday. He starts the race from the No. 27 position and he had a fast car in the Saturday practice sessions. Kasey is good at running the top of the track but he did scrape the wall in the morning practice. It was only cosmetic damage so the No. 5 car will be OK.
Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 team started practice on scuff tires. They ran 2 laps to shake down the car. They then put on sticker tires and made some 15-lap runs. They were working on their long run speed. Harvick was happy with the way the car handled at the top of the track. They were working on making it a little better at the bottom. Harvick served a 15 minute penalty so his lap times were slower because the track did not have as much grip. Steve Latart said on NBC Sports Network, “When you look at the speed chart, no one can run with the 4 car. His long run speed is so much faster than the competition.” After practice Rodney Childers told MRN, “I would be shocked if we did not walk out of here with the trophy tomorrow night.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer was fast in the tire test in October. He had moments when he looked good in practice and then he would come out and be way down on the speed chart. It had a lot to do with the tires he had on the car. The No. 14 car looks very competitive with new tires but they seem to wear faster than his competitors. The good news is that this team usually races a lot better then they practice. Clint was 2nd fastest in final practice.
Kurt Busch: Kurt still does not have a ride for the 2018. It is expected that he will be back in the No. 41 car and a top-5 finish Sunday will go a long way to securing him a seat in the car. His car had decent speed. I would expect Kurt to run in the top 10 Sunday.
Kyle Larson: Kyle has 4 straight DNFs. He said he wants some momentum heading into the offseason so I doubt this team has quit on the season. Kyle made 20 laps in the morning practice and Chad Johnston told him, “Bring it in. The track conditions are not going to allow us to learn anything in this practice. We will work on it and make it perfect for final practice.”
Brad Keselowski: Brad said on Thursday that he plans to use tire strategy to outrun the No. 78, No. 18 and the No. 4 Sunday. Tires wear out quickly at Homestead and the No. 2 car is the best at managing their tires. They had problems with their brakes in Friday’s practice and did not make many runs. The No. 2 car picked up a lot of speed in the practices Saturday. His car was good on the long runs and they were generally happy with the car.
Joey Logano: Joey made many long runs in final practice. He liked his car. He said, “The balance is really good. I feel we can compete with anyone at the top and I feel comfortable in the middle too.” This is one of Logano’s better tracks.
Ryan Blaney: Ryan may be an overlooked driver this week but he should not be. The team is happy with their car. The No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford has been fast on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. I see no reason why it will be different Sunday. The team was practicing running at the top of the track.
Kyle Busch: Kyle had the longest runs in final practice. He said, “The stability is good, the balance is good, a little tight at the bottom but very competitive at the top.” This team really liked their car and they seem to be the most confident team in the garage. If this race come down to a late race restart, it will be hard to bet against the No. 18 car. Dave Moody said in final practice on MRN that he noticed Kyle was running the top in 1 & 2 and the bottom in 3 & 4. Then the No. 18 car would switch it up and run the top in 3 & 4 and then the bottom in 1 & 2. Moody’s opinion was that the No. 18 team did not want to run a complete lap and tip their hand to the competition. They wanted to make sure their car was good at the top in both ends of the track but did not want to do it on one lap.
Matt Kenseth: Matt was quiet on the radio as usual. He lap times were in the top 10 for each of the practice. The Toyotas have been fast this week and Kenseth should run most of the race in the top 10. I doubt he will lead many laps but he should finish near the top 5 in his final race.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin will start from the pole Sunday. Homestead is banked and races similarly to Darlington and Hamlin won that race this year. He was also the fastest driver in the test session in October. When you look at the speed chart, the No. 11 car is the fastest on the track. He will definitely lead some laps Sunday and the No. 1 pit stall will help too. I think they have the speed to compete for the win.
Daniel Suarez: The No. 19 car used the same setup that was used for Carl Edwards last year. Daniel made many 15-lap runs and said, “The balance is pretty good. It is a little free on exit.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Martin started the practice on scuff tires. They put new tires on the car and made many long runs. He practiced running the top of the track. He felt the car was perfect in the center and bottom. They just needed to dial it in at the bottom of the track. He did scrape the wall lightly, but no damage to the car. Truex is almost a lock to finish in the top 5 Sunday.
Erik Jones: Erik ranks 8th on steep, large oval tracks this year. He is running the same setup as the No. 78 car. The No. 77 car was very fast in final practice. His raw speed was in the top 5 and his long run speed was pretty good too. Erik will be a good sleeper driver this week.
Ryan Newman: Ryan has been pretty good at Homestead in his career. He likes to run up against the fence. After some long runs Ryan said, “It is OK in 1 and 2 but it chases up to the fence in 3 and 4. We need some more grip.” After his last run Ryan said, “I think we are close.” Ryan is a good sleeper pick this week.
Austin Dillon: Halfway through final practice Austin said, ““Tight in one and two. Everything else is pretty good” He was pretty happy with his car.
Paul Menard: This will be the final race for Paul at Richard Childress Racing in the No. 27 car. It will be interesting to see how motivated Paul is to run well Sunday. From what I heard, he is already focused on 2018 in the Wood Brothers Ford. After some changes, Paul says the drive off Turn2 is good, it’s a little tight center 3 & 4, which makes him wait on throttle & a little loose off Turn 4.
Ty Dillon: Ty will be a great choice for games that award position differential points. He starts 32nd and the No. 13 team always runs a lot better than where they qualify.
AJ Allmendinger: AJ was fighting a loose racecar in all practices. He hit the wall in the morning practice and the team spent a lot of time fixing the damage.
Chris Buescher: Chris made many short runs and then brought the car into the garage. He said, “We just have not speed. I am sliding the front tires and have no rear grip in the back. I do not know where to begin.”
Trevor Bayne: Trevor ran fast laps in all of the practices and he will start 12th Sunday. This is the best this car has looked in a long time. It is still hard to trust Trevor on your fantasy team. His car has the speed but does he have the talent to keep it up front? He scraped the wall in the morning practice and had some cosmetic damage.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Ricky qualified 6th for the race Sunday and that will hurt his fantasy value. It will be hard for Ricky to stay up front this week. His car was loose in and off of the corners in practice. They will have to find a lot more speed to compete for a top five finish Sunday.
Aric Almirola: In the morning practice the No. 43 car was hitting the splitter on the track. They made a shock adjustment between the two practice sessions and Aric said, “Much, much better.”
David Ragan: David was disappointed in his qualifying setup Friday. He thought the car had a lot more speed than where he qualified. After some long runs in practice David said, “A little loose on entry and exit but manageable.” The team worked to tighten up the no. 38 car.
Landon Cassill: Landon said his car needed a little more work. He told his team, “It sucks up against the wall really well. We can make some good speed up there but it is awefull in the middle and lower on the track.”
Michael McDowell: This will be the final race for Michael in the No. 95 car before Kasey Kahne takes over next season. He made many long runs in final practice. The team was looking for more rear grip in the tires. After his final run Michael said, “This is an improvement over where we were heading into this race last year.” The No. 95 cr finished 12th at Homestead in 2016.
Matt Dibenedetto: Matt was complaining that the car was, “Getting better with each adjustment. It needs more security platform-wise on the entry and too tight on the exit.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones
Click here for Friday Afternoon Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR