Denny Hamlin grabs Homestead pole, Martin Truex Jr. also on front row

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Denny Hamlin was last to make a final qualifying run but took the pole for Sunday’s and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400.

Hamlin (173.980 mph) knocked Martin Truex Jr. (173.952) off the pole with a bonsai run around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Love this racetrack, wish we would have a chance, but it’ll be another day and another year for us,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “I want to win, that’s all I care about.”

This is Hamlin’s second pole of his career (and second in the last three races) at Homestead, where he’s also a two-time Cup winner.

Truex is the highest qualifying driver of the four Championship 4 contestants.

“It was a good day overall,” Truex told NBCSN. “Hopefully, we’ll just make some minor adjustments (in Saturday’s two practice sessions) and get comfortable and get ready to race on Sunday.”

The other drivers are: Kyle Busch (qualified third, 173.930), Brad Keselowski (fifth, 172.452) and Kevin Harvick was the slowest of the four (ninth, 171.876).

“Not a bad lap, definitely was pole-worthy, so I hate that we weren’t able to get the No. 1 pit stall,” Busch told NBCSN. “I think we’re further ahead than we were 2015 when we won the whole thing.”

Keselowski told NBCSN: “It sure doesn’t feel bad, but there’s a long way to go. It’s just one day of a three-day weekend. … This is like a poker game. This is the deal, it’s qualifying. Tomorrow you start to see the turn of the cards with race trim. We’re not in a bad spot, not where we want to be, we still need a little speed obviously to run with the Toyotas, but we’re kind of first in class (among Ford teams) today.”

Harvick said to NBCSN: “Not exactly how I wanted it to go, but all-in-all I think we’re going to be fine. It’s not like we’re starting 39th or something.”

In addition to Hamlin, non-championship drivers that qualified in the top 12 include Matt Kenseth (fourth, 172.678), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (sixth, 172.359), Kyle Larson (seventh, 172.205), Kurt Busch (eighth, 172.106), Daniel Suarez (10th, 171.789), Ryan Blaney (11th, 171.255) and Trevor Bayne (12th, 171.124).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start last because of an engine change in practice Friday. … Danica Patrick, who announced she will race next year in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 before retiring, qualified 25th. … Sunday’s race will have 39 cars in the field.

Click here for qualifying results.

Kyle Busch fastest in first Cup practice in Miami

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Championship 4 driver Kyle Busch was fastest in the first Cup Series practice for the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Busch posted a top speed of 172.695 mph around Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led Martin Truex Jr. (172.529), Kevin Harvick (171.865), Kyle Larson (171.217) and Denny Hamlin (170.854).

Truex and Harvick are among the Championship 4.

The fourth driver of the group, Brad Keselowski, was 21st fastest at 168.919 mph.

None of the championship drivers made more than seven laps in the session.

Larson had the best 10-lap average at 165.012 mph.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is making his last Cup start, was 14th fastest. Earnhardt will go to a backup engine after burning a piston early.

Matt Kenseth was 12th fastest.

Click here for the practice report.

Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew department wins Comcast Community Champion Award

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Comcast awarded its third annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award Thursday night to the Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew department.

The group was awarded $60,000 for its philanthropic efforts in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. They were in contention with the foundations of Cup drivers Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Both foundations received $30,000.

The CGR pit crew, led by coaches Shaun Peet and Mike Metcalf, was nominated for its work with Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte, Charlotte Rescue Mission, Camp Care and Barium Springs Home for the Children. They have participated in clothing drives, disaster relief cleanup, building clean up and restoration and more.

The department also leads a yearly bicycle drive called the “Race to the North Pole,” which in 2016 donated more than 150 children’s bicycles to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte.

The $60,000 award will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte.

“It’s huge for our team to win the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award. We’ve always wanted to serve behind the scenes, but having the opportunity to bring awareness to the people and organizations we’re passionate about is a huge honor,” Metcalf in a press release. “Winning this award reminds us that it isn’t the Victory Lane hats, the trophies and the wins that impact others most in life, it’s about making a difference.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew department was chosen by a panel of judges consisting of former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty, NASCAR.com reporter Holly Cain, 2016 Comcast Community Champion Wade Jackson and executives from Comcast and NASCAR.

 

NASCAR America: Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick preview Cup title race

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Two of the four Cup championship participants, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, are Ford drivers.

Both are competing for their second Cup titles. Harvick has been in the Championship 4 three times since the inception of the elimination playoff format in 2014 when he won the title. This is Keselowski’s first time in the Championship 4.

The drivers sat down with Marty Snider and Kelli Stavast at the championship media day in Miami ahead of Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Stavast asked Harvick how big a deal it was that he won at Texas two weeks ago after passing Martin Truex Jr. under green with less than 10 to go.

Six of Truex’s seven wins this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks, which is the length of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I think it was very significant,” Harvick said. “I feel like we’ve had the best car the last few times we’ve been on the mile-and-a-half tracks, haven’t capitalized on it every time. But the win at Texas, you almost don’t need to say anything because of the fact you passed the fastest guy in town to win the race.”

Snider asked Keselowski what his biggest concern will be on track Sunday that he can’t control.

“Probably the biggest thing that worries me that’s out of my control is just the cars that are really slow,” Keselowski said. “Some of the back marker cars and some of their strategies and so forth.”

Watch Harvick’s video above and Keselowski’s video below for the full interviews.

Kyle Busch on Brad Keselowski: ‘Sometimes you just don’t like a guy’ (video)

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MIAMI BEACH, Florida — Kyle Busch was blunt Thursday when asked about the animosity between he and Brad Keselowski.

“Sometimes you just don’t like a guy,’’ Busch said during the press conference for the Cup title contenders at the Lowes Miami Beach. “I never ran into Matt Kenseth. I don’t think Matt Kenseth ever ran into me. There is a respect factor out there on the race track and you can certainly do a better job sometimes when you’re around some of those guys that you may or may not necessarily like.

“As once a wise man told me, I think it was Chase Elliott, I race those how they race me.’’

The history between Busch and Keselowski is marked with controversial moments, crashes and frustrated feelings.

After some bumping in an Xfinity race at Bristol in 2010, Busch returned the favor and Keselowski wrecked.

Their rivalry intensified in 2012 when Busch wrecked after contact from Keselowski on the last lap at Watkins Glen.

A year later, Keselowski wrecked after contact from Busch in an Xfinity race at Kansas.

Busch hit the wall after contact from Keselowski at Bristol in 2016.

At the start of the Xfinity race in June, Busch spun after contact from Keselowski. Then at Watkins Glen this year, they both spun after Busch made an aggressive move through the inner loop.

At the start of the playoffs, Keselowski’s complained about Toyota’s dominance and went to Twitter to express his disappointment with NASCAR for allowing it to happen. Busch responded with a strong message to Keselowski.

Keselowski was more diplomatic about the feelings toward Busch.

“I haven’t really thought about it,’’ he said. “I think looking through this weekend there’s four of us up here on this stage and for probably both of us it’s not enough to beat each other, we’ve got to beat everyone to win the championship. From my perspective (it would be) a little bit foolish to get caught up with any one person. I do think that both of us are fortunate to have great cars, great teams and when you run up at the front a lot things are going to happen. I feel like where we’re at in the sport right now, we’re both going to be here for a long time to come.

“If you looked across the field, every one has had some run-ins with each other. Probably all four of us have probably run into each other through the course of our careers. That’s part of the fun of the sport as well.’’

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