The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars practiced for the final time at Phoenix Saturday. The series was back to its regular schedule this week. 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. It will be fun to see who scores the final spot in the Final Four at Homestead.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the final practice at Saturday…
The weather for final practice was sunny and 82 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is partly cloudy and 84 degrees. The new surface at Phoenix is sensitive to the weather so I expect the race to start off in similar conditions to what the drivers had in final practice but it will change a lot as the clouds roll in and rubber is worn into the track Sunday.
Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher were penalized 15 minutes in final practice for failing inspection at Texas.
Chase Elliott: Chase opened the morning practice with a long run and went to the top of the speed chart. Alan Gustafson said after qualifying that they thought they had the best car this weekend and should have won the pole. Chase led the second-most laps in the spring race at Phoenix. The speed for the No. 24 car was down on the speed chart in Final Practice but that was because Chase had to serve a 15 minute penalty and did not have a clean track. Chase said, “It is pretty good. I feel we can win with it.”
Jimmie Johnson: The No. 48 team spent the Friday practice in qualifying trim. Chad Knaus felt track position was very important at Phoenix so he wanted Jimmie to start up front. They qualified 12th. Jimmie made multiple long runs in Final Practice. Chad Knuas told Jimmie, “We have the best car on the long runs.” This is the best the No. 48 has looked in practice for a long time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Dale made a long run to begin practice and he said, “It feels like it is going to tip over in the turn. The left front is in the track too much and the left rear is in the air too much.” The No. 88 car had a lot of speed just like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, but you could not tell by listening to Junior on the radio.
Kasey Kahne: The No. 5 car has the same setup as the No. 24 car this week and his speed is almost as fast. Kasey said, “The balance is near perfect. I can drive it on the low groove as well as anyone. We just need a little more in the middle of the track.” Kasey was the surprise driver in the practice sessions. Darian Grubb really made a difference for this team.
Kevin Harvick: After his 1st run in Friday’s practice Kevin told Rodney Childers, “They are all in trouble this weekend. Whatever we lost, it is back.” Harvick made 3 longs runs in the morning practice and laid down the fastest laps. They were very consistent without much falloff. The No. 4 team waited about 10 minutes for some fresh rubber to be laid down in final practice. Kevin went straight to the top of the speed chart. It will be very risky to fade Kevin this week. Tony Stewart was in the garage with the No. 4 team for all practices. He talked to Kevin about the car after every run.
Clint Bowyer: Clint made 2 long runs in the morning practice and said, “Not sure what you did yesterday (Friday) but this car feels entirely different. We have a lot more speed. Just a tick tight on exit but I can work with it.” After his final run Clint said, “We are a hell of a lot better than yesterday. That’s for damn sure.”
Kurt Busch: The Stewart-Haas Racing cars all had the same setup. It was a setup provided by Rodney Childers from the No. 4 car. The 4, 41 and 14 were all fast. Busch ran most of the practice sessions in the top 10. The car was a little loose but Kurt said it was, “drivable”.
Kyle Larson: Kyle finished 3rd in this race last year and 2nd in March. The No. 42 car is fast again this week. They worked on their long run speed in practice. Larson had the second-fastest car on the long runs. He will definitely be looking to regain some momentum heading into the offseason.
Jamie McMurray: Jamie has been good but not great this week. The car did not react in the turns the way he wanted it. They were better on the long runs but the car took a while to gain speed. Jamie should finish in the top 12 Sunday.
Brad Keselowski: Brad started the weekend with the setup of the No. 21 car. They felt Ryan Blaney’s setup was a lot better for qualifying. He qualified 16th and was not happy. After some long runs in morning practice the team was not happy with their race setup. Brad said, “Just way too loose on exit and nothing seems to be working. They could not make a long run because the car was so bad. The No. 2 team made some major changes between the practices sessions and they said, “We hit on something. We’ll be good now.”
Joey Logano: Joey made two short runs and one long run in final practice. He said, “The backend has zero grip.” He had the best Team Penske car but that is not saying much this week. I am sure they will be fine Sunday but they have a lot of work to do.
Ryan Blaney: Ryan Balney made two short runs in the morning practice and he said, “The car feels like it is disconnected from the track. It is junk. We need a lot of work.” He sounded very upset on the radio. The team made some major adjustments between the practice sessions.
Kyle Busch: The No. 18 team worked on dialing in their long run speed in the two practice sessions. Kyle also worked on getting on and off pit road. He told MRN radio the No. 18 team wants to eliminate the mistakes and go into Homestead with momentum. Kyle came out of the garage in Final Practice and laid down the fastest lap.
Matt Kenseth: Matt does not have great stats at Phoenix when you look at his average finishing position but he has run well in the races. He was running in the top 5 when he crashed last year. All of the Toyotas have a lot of speed this week and Kenseth looks to be right behind Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch on the speed chart.
Denny Hamlin: For the 1st time this season the No. 11 car rolled off the truck in race trim. The rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars where in qualifying trim and they were sharing data with the No. 11 team. After some long runs in final practice Mike Wheeler told MRN that they are, “Very happy with their car.” After their final run Denny said, “Wow this car is phenomenal! Everything you did made it better.”
Daniel Suarez: Daniel started final practice with two 10-lap runs and then he worked on getting on and off of pit-road. The car had top-15 speed but was a little loose on exit.
Martin Truex Jr.: Martin has never won at Phoenix but they are very happy with their car this week. Truex ran in the top 5 in the morning practice. The No. 78 came out and made some long runs in Final Practice and he was once again in the top 5. Do not sleep on the No. 78 car this weekend.
Erik Jones: The No. 77 car made 3 long runs in the morning practice. They were working on dialing in the car as much as possible in the morning practice because Erik had to serve a 30 minute penalty in the final practice. The car was the fastest on the long runs in the morning practice.
Ryan Newman: Ryan told NBC sports, “We need all 4 tires to get into the track better. It feels like the right sides are doing all of the work.” According to my notes this was the same problem the No. 31 team had in March when they won the race. I expect them to be fine on race day.
Austin Dillon: Austin made some short runs and said, “Everything feels stiff and too loose to the gas.” He made another long run and said, “A little tight in both ends of the center but it is getting a lot better.”
Paul Menard: Paul was fighting a tight racecar. The No. 27 added wedge to the car so Paul would not have to adjust the trackbar so much during the race.
Ty Dillon: Daniel Hemric practiced the car in the morning session Saturday. Ty’s wife is expecting a baby so Hemric will drive the car if Ty has to leave the track. The car was tight but they made gains on it between the practice sessions. This team always runs much better then where they qualify.
AJ Allmendinger: AJ spent most of the Friday practice and the Saturday morning practice fighting a loose racecar. The team tightened him up for final practice but AJ said, “We still need some more rear grip.” He made 3 long s runs and said, “The balance is pretty close. We just need a little more speed.”
Chris Buescher: Chris made many long runs in the No. 37 Clorox Chevy. He said, “Center is still tight, in and off the corner has good rear security, but the right front chatters too much.” They brought him in for adjustments. Chris made another long run and said, “Each adjustment helps. We are going in the right direction but we are not there yet.”
Trevor Bayne: Trevor did not look any better than his Roush Fenway teammate Saturday. The No. 6 team fought a loose racecar and Trevor said, “It feels like I am going to spin out on entry of the corner.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Ricky was affected by the sun glare in qualifying. He locked up the tires as he went into turn 1. These are the same tires he will start the race with Sunday. I am sure they have a flat spot on them but if the No. 17 changes the tires they will start last. Stenhouse Jr. spun out in the Saturday morning practice but did not hit anything.
Aric Almirola: Aric made some long runs in both practices. He said, “Still tight in the middle and lacking some grip on the drive out of the corner.” Aric seems to have a bounce in his step this week after the announcement was made that he will be in the no. 10 car next year.
David Ragan: David was fighting a tight race car in practice. David said, “A little too tight on entry, free rolling through the center and tight on exit.” Tight does not equal speed. After the last run David said, “The front end feels like it is sliding. But the changes are working so keep going in the same direction.”
Michael McDowell: The No. 95 team made three long runs in practice. After the first run Michael said, “That is a little better as far as the chatter goes, but still tight all the way through.” After his second run he said, “We are definitely making gains.”
Matt Dibenedetto: Matt said the car was hitting the splitter on the track in the morning practice. The team made some adjustments and he said, “That felt better but it is still free. It feels edgy.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne.
Click here for Friday Afternoon Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 5-Lap Average Speed
- Kyle Busch 133.930
- Martin Truex Jr. 133.842
- Kasey Kahne 133.830
- Denny Hamlin 133.796
- Jamie McMurray 133.548
- Kevin Harvick 133.519
- Brad Keselowski 133.486
- Matt Kenseth 133.432
- Clint Bowyer 133.430
- Ryan Blaney 133.292
Best 15-Lap Average Speed
- Jimmie Johnson 133.190
- Denny Hamlin 133.026
- Kyle Busch 132.993
- Kevin Harvick 132. 958
- Martin Truex Jr. 132.991
- Kyle Larson 132.745
- Matt Kenseth 132.686
- Jamie McMurray 132. 648
- Clint Bowyer 132 305
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 132.009
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