The Chase for the Championship comes to a close Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Jimmie Johnson looking to win an unprecedented fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Johnson currently has a comfortable 108-point lead over second place Mark Martin which equates to the difference from first to 25th place.
During the final preparations for the race in Saturday’s practice sessions, both Martin and Johnson look to be equally up for the task for Sunday’s showdown. Johnson, who won the pole on Friday, was strong in both sessions running third fastest in the early session and seventh fastest during happy Hour.
Martin fared better Saturday having the fastest times in the first practice and third best in Happy hour giving the No. 5 Hendrick some semblance of hope that at least they know they’ll have one of the strongest cars on race day.
Both drivers are coming in with winning chassis’ as well. Johnson has the same car that he won with at Indianapolis and Martin brought his same car that won a Darlington and Chicagoland.
While the main story all week has centered around the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers battling for the Championship, two Richard Childress Racing drivers came out blazing during Happy Hour creating their own story and making them serious contenders to win the race itself.
Jeff Burton led Happy Hour with the fastest lap of 165.736 mph and close behind was teammate Kevin Harvick with the second fastest lap. Both drivers laid down the quick times in the early stages of the session.
Burton is looking continue his current hot streak on the season that has seen him finish in the top-10 in his last three races including a season best second-place last week at Phoenix. In his last 1.5-mile high banked track, run at Texas, Burton finished fifth.
Despite the good run at Texas, Burton’s team opted to bring a brand new chassis for this race and if this an indication to what may be in store for 2010 for RCR, missing the Chase likely will not occur again.
Harvick’s good run in practice shouldn’t come as too much of surprise, even though he did beat out the regular practice bully’s of Johnson and Martin. Harvick has finished in the top-10 in six of his last eight Miami starts, including last season’s best of second-place. This week he has brought the same chassis that finished fifth at Texas two weeks ago.
Both Harvick and Burton also put together the best average lap speeds during happy Hour which means Mark Martin may have a battle on his hands as he attempts to lead the most laps and win the race.
Top Speeds - Saturday’s First Practice Session:
1) Mark Martin 168.177 mph—AVG 30 laps @ 162.027
2) Denny Hamlin 167.884 mph—AVG 32 laps @ 161.119
3) Jimmie Johnson 167.863 mph—AVG 31 laps @ 161.497
4) Ryan Newman 167.822 mph—AVG 28 laps @ 161.046
5) Kyle Busch 167.811 mph—24 laps @ 161.554
Top Average speed: Kevin Harvick 24 laps @ 163.194
Most laps run: Brian Vickers 39
Top Speeds - Saturday’s Final Practice (Happy Hour)
1) Jeff Burton 165.736 mph—AVG 44 laps @ 161.439
2) Kevin Harvick 165.375—AVG 42 laps @ 161.293
3) Mark Martin 165.067 mph—AVG 47 laps @ 160.923
4) Martin Truex Jr 165.022 mph—AVG 48 laps @ 160.923
5) Ryan Newman 164.604 mph—AVG 50 laps @ 160.103
Top-10 Rated Drivers do Homestead-Miami based on final practices, recent performances on high banked 1.5-mile tracks, and current state of the team.
1) Mark Martin
2) Kevin Harvick
3) Kurt Busch
4) Jeff Burton
5) Jimmie Johnson
6) Ryan Newman
7) Denny Hamlin
8) Tony Stewart
9) Kyle Busch
10) Juan Pablo Montoya
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