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Cup title contenders share thoughts after final practice in Miami

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Cup teams have taken part in their final practice session for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

The next time they will be on track, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. will determine the 2017 champion.

Here’s what each championship driver had to say after the last practice.

Martin Truex Jr. – No. 78 Toyota

How did the car feel in final practice?
“I thought we were pretty close. Need to get the balance a little better, but I think we definitely have enough speed to do what we need to do. Just have to get the balance right. Conditions, trying to plan on finishing this race at night is part of what we’re trying to figure out. I think we changed enough and made enough adjustments today and we learned a lot. That gives us a lot to look at tonight and make the right decisions based off of that.”

What benefit is the additional set of tires for the race?
“Just makes it easier to call the race. With the stages, it adds two cautions to the race that we’re not normally used to and we used a lot of tires last year. I think that’s what everybody was kind of nervous about was not having enough tires. This isn’t the kind of place, especially racing for a championship, that at some point in the race you want to have to stay out and save tires for later or we’re going to be screwed. It’s a really tough decision because you can get lapped here in no time on old tires. Just helps ease the tension a little bit and it just depends on how all the cautions fall.”

What is your mind set for tomorrow?
“I feel really good. We’ve been in this position before – I’ve raced for a championship here twice now. Came out on top of one and not the other – I’m 50-50 and those are pretty good odds with four of us I’d say. I feel good, we’ve got good speed and I just need to make sure we get the balance right for tomorrow and you never know how these things are going to play out. We’ll just try to do our normal deal and make smart decisions and be around at the end of this thing and have a shot at it.”

What does the team work mean when you had members of the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) team helping repair your car in first practice?

“The teamwork has been amazing all year-long and that’s what’s got us to this point – both of us really. Our teams working together so well and if you look at the speed charts, a lot of times all of our cars are right there together and that shows the teamwork and the commitment to everybody being on the same page and working together and using the same information. You see a lot of teams out here that have cars all over the map on speed – one that’s real fast, one that’s real slow and some smattered in between. We’re never like that – we’re all really fast or we’re all really slow. Sometimes it’s tough when you’re off, but when your stuff is working good, it’s the way to go. It’s working good for us right now and I’m pretty sure we’ll be racing the 18 all night tomorrow.”

Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toytoa

How did your Camry feel in race setup today?

“It feels okay. Certainly you always want to be faster than you are but the feel of our Camry feels pretty good so hopefully that bodes well in the race. Being able to run good, clean consistent laps and will allow us to keep ourselves upfront most of the day and be able to race them.”

What is your mindset going into tomorrow’s season-finale race?

“Everything looks a lot similar to 2015 right now. We qualified third in 2015 and we won the owner’s and driver’s championship with Erik Jones in the Truck Series on Friday night (in 2015). We weren’t the best car in practice that year either and we were able to out race them in the end. I’m looking for a complete 100 percent repeat and if we can do all of that then we’ll be the ones celebrating again Sunday night.”

Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford

“Everything is fine right now. We kept the car clean and I feel like we have speed and the car hangs on really good. Everything is good so far.”

Brad Keselowski – N0. 2 Ford

How do you feel you’re positioned for tomorrow?  “I’m not entirely sure (laughing).  We seem to be a little better than we were here at the test, which is good.  We learned some things there that I was happy about.  We still probably need a solid tenth or two to run with the 18 (Busch) and the 4 (Harvick).  The 78 (Truex) looks really good on the short run, but this has a race of attrition look to it, so we’re gonna have to be smart about it.”

What is the biggest challenge you face tomorrow?  “Holding on to the car.  It’s very, very loose.  Running the whole race without hitting the wall is gonna be a big challenge.”

NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Scan All from Auto Club Speedway

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Martin Truex Jr. was once again in championship form Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

That fact frustrated some drivers, especially Kyle Busch.

You can hear his frustrations and more in this week’s Scan All.

Here are some highlights.

— “I mean, he’s a (expletive) idiot for racing that hard 30 laps into a (expletive) race.” – Chad Johnston, crew chief for Kyle Larson after contact with Kevin Harvick wrecked Harvick on Lap 39.

Johnston’s tone cooled once Harvick owned up to his mistake.

“Harvick’s taking responsibility for that, so don’t sweat it,” Johnston said.

— “You did a hell of a job keeping it off that inside wall. I was watching on the roof cam and was like, ‘Oh Lord, don’t hit that one.” – Rodney Childers, crew chief of Harvick.

— “I don’t know what the (expletive) he’s got going on, but damn I don’t have that.” – Kyle Busch observing how much better Martin Truex Jr.’s car was performing

— “This thing went from absolutely horrible to even worse than that.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

— “I don’t even know what the hell we’re doing, what the hell’s going on and what we’re going to do next. It’s been the same all day. We haven’t made any ground on it.” – Kyle Busch as he struggled to keep pace with Larson and Truex.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Biggest storylines through five race weekends

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After five races in the Cup season, NASCAR America’s analysts assessed what the biggest storylines are ahead of this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton took turns sharing what’s stood out to them.

Jeff Burton started off by saying Kevin Harvick‘s success was the “easy answer.”

Burton discussed his surprise at Chevrolet teams underperforming.

“It reminds you in racing that you don’t really know what’s going to happen until it happens,” Burton said. “I’m surprised we haven’t seen more performance from the new Chevy body.”

Earnhardt was surprised at how big Martin Truex Jr’s margin of victory was on Sunday. He beat Kyle Busch by 11.6 seconds.

“I felt like in the first couple of races, maybe we got tricked into thinking the new inspections process had maybe leveled the playing field a little bit, even though Harvick won three in a row,” Earnhardt said. “Then Truex goes out and does what he did last year, maybe even better than he did last year.”

Letarte said his “big shock” for 2018 has been the “lack of change.”

“It’s the same players leading laps that we saw in 2017,” Letarte said. “Everyone is trying to catch up. I’ve always found it the hardest to continue to push your guys, continue to push your race cars when you’re already winning. It’s easy when you’re getting beat to motivate everybody.”

Earnhardt also observed how younger drivers have struggled to shine through five races.

“Across the board, the young guys still aren’t measuring up to the veterans yet,” Earnhardt said.

Watch the above video for more.