Bump & Run: Who completes Championship 4 field?

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Who will be the fourth driver to advance to the championship round in Cup?

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin. Phoenix has haunted him in the past as where his championship bids have gone south, but this time the 1-mile track will stoke a comeback for his team. He will earn major stage points in the first two segments, allowing him to put the pressure on Brad Keselowski with a strong finish. Or, he might just win outright there for the first time in five years.

Dustin Long: Brad Keselowski. He won’t lose his advantage on the others.

Jerry Bonkowski: Brad Keselowski punches his ticket to the Championship 4 round at Phoenix. The only real potential threat to Keselowski’s bid is if seven-time NASCAR Cup champ Jimmie Johnson reaches back in his bag of tricks to win in the Valley of the Sun. And knowing how Johnson has found ways to do the impossible numerous times in his career to date, don’t count him out. Keselowski sure won’t.

Daniel McFadin: I see Ryan Blaney finding a way to hop over Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin to be the second Ford driver in the championship round.

How significant was it that Martin Truex Jr. lost a race on a 1.5-mile track so close to Miami?

Nate Ryan: As Truex indicated in his postrace media session, it can be downplayed significantly. He got beat on the final run but was in the ballgame before that at a 1.5-mile track where the Toyotas weren’t that strong this season. He already is looking forward to Miami, where he had a strong test two weeks ago.

Dustin Long: If nothing else, it gives Kevin Harvick’s team confidence and anything positive this late in the season can be a good thing.

Jerry Bonkowski: Much ado about nothing. Sure, he didn’t win for a seventh time on a 1.5-miler this season at Texas, but is second place really a sign of a sudden turn of poor performance? Remember, Truex made a mistake with 10 laps left, allowing Kevin Harvick to pass for the win. Had it not been for Truex’s mistake, he potentially could have won Sunday.

Daniel McFadin: While it’s eyebrow raising that Truex lost, it’s not that big of a deal. Texas is one of the two 1.5-mile tracks he didn’t win at this year in either race there, along with Atlanta. He also didn’t win the Coke 600. Truex still has the most consistent speed, and I would take him in any head-to-head battle with the remaining playoff drivers after Kyle Larson was eliminated.

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Who has a better chance of winning either of the last two races: Matt Kenseth or Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Nate Ryan: This is tighter than it might seem. Either could win Phoenix – Kenseth probably should have won there last season, and Earnhardt’s No. 88 nearly did … and he won Phoenix in 2015. Kenseth is a better bet at Miami, but in all likelihood, it probably will be a championship-eligible driver who wins there.

Dustin Long: Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix. The champion – or Kyle Larson – likely will win in Miami.

Jerry Bonkowski: Had it not been for a dumb team mistake at Kansas, Kenseth could potentially still have a chance to reach Miami. But since that is no longer an option, what better way for Kenseth to close out his career than with a final win — especially since he hasn’t had a win yet in 2017. As for Junior, he may have a shot to win at Phoenix, given his past success there. But with his struggles this season, as much as I’d like to see him win one last time, I just don’t see it happening. But you have to admit: if he were to win at Miami, it would be one of the best storylines ever seen in NASCAR: one driver being crowned season champion and Earnhardt winning in his last career Cup race.

Daniel McFadin: Matt Kenseth. The No. 20 has been more competitive all year. But don’t sleep on Earnhardt. The No. 88 team has finished in the top five in two of the last four races at Phoenix, including Earnhardt’s 2015 win in a rain-shortened race. Alex Bowman finished sixth in this race last year after leading 194 laps, so the No. 88 team has a good grasp of what works there.

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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Kyle Larson: ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing’

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Kyle Larson‘s comment on Twitter earlier this week that he would like to run full-time in the World of Outlaws sprint car series “before I’m 40” might have riled some fans, but Larson says it was not meant as anything bad toward NASCAR.

“I don’t know, I think maybe some people aren’t quite as open-minded, maybe,” the 26-year-old Larson said Friday at Sonoma Raceway. “It’s like they read it as if I said in two years from now I wanted to do it. I mean 15 years from now that would put me 20 years in Cup. So, that is a long time. 

“I think Jeff Gordon spent about that much time in the sport (Gordon raced in Cup 23 full-time seasons), but I don’t know, maybe I don’t do the best job in the world of talking about how much I love NASCAR as much as I do sprint cars, but I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing.

“I enjoy sprint cars, and I feel like I talk about sprint cars a lot just to open people’s eyes to that style of racing because it’s a great form or racing and so is NASCAR. So, I don’t know, I just want fans to be fans of motorsports not just NASCAR and not just sprint cars. I would like to see everybody just enjoy all of racing and I think that is what I do. Maybe I don’t do a good job at it sometimes, but you know, I enjoy racing all types of vehicles. Most fans get it, but some fans aren’t quite open-minded enough.”

It was on the official World of Outlaws podcast in December where Larson expressed his desire to eventually transition to the World of Outlaws.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson said on that podcast in the offseason. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw (sprint car) tour probably right now, racing and loving life … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal.”

Larson just finished running five nights of Ohio Sprint Speedweek. He won two of those nights. Rain postponed a sixth event before the feature that Larson was to have run. Larson said he has the dirt track race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on his schedule. Indianapolis is building a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run during the NASCAR weekend there in September.

Larson is in his fifth full Cup season. He has five career series wins. Although winless this season, Larson has finished runner-up three times (Auto Club Speedway, Bristol and Pocono).

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Four Cup cars to be docked practice time at Sonoma

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Four cars will miss time in today’s opening practice at Sonoma Raceway for violations, NASCAR announced Friday.

David Ragan will miss 30 minutes for failing inspection before the race at Michigan three times.

Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne each will be docked 15 minutes for failing inspection twice before the Michigan race.

Today’s opening Cup practice goes from 2:40 – 3:55 p.m. ET.

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