Drivers have their say: Entourage, advice, and what to expect in Cup finale

Dustin Long

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — NBA great Michael Jordan will be a part of Denny Hamlin’s entourage for Sunday’s Cup championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A UFC title contender asked Kyle Busch for advice Saturday heading into his championship bout.

Kevin Harvick just can’t wait to race.

All four Cup title contenders met the media for the last time before Sunday’s season-ending race (3 p.m. ET on NBC). They spoke minutes after completing Saturday’s final practice session that saw Busch post the fastest lap, Hamlin have the best average over 10 consecutive laps and Martin Truex Jr. record the best average over 15 consecutive laps.

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Saturday marked the first time Cup cars have been on track after Friday’s practices were rained out. 

Now, the focus turns to the race.

“As soon as that starts, you’re like,’ Thank God,’” Harvick said. “’I can do what I normally do.’”

Entering the weekend, drivers wondered if this package might race differently at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They got their answer Saturday.

“I think the line is probably not that much different,” Harvick said. “It’s just following behind cars is way worse than what it has been before. You’re going to have to be versatile in where you can run on the racetrack, be able to run bottom, middle and top because you can’t run behind another car.”

No matter where one needs to run, Truex was encouraged by his car in practice.

“Good we were able to make three long runs,” he said. “Typically for me personally, if the car is pretty close, I’ll run a bunch of laps right away. That’s definitely a good sign. The guys did a good job being prepared, making a lot of good assumptions.

I feel pretty good. I definitely feel like we can get better. Just like every other weekend, how do you get better, can you do the right things, make the right changes tonight for tomorrow, then you go race and see how it plays out. Feeling pretty good about things.”

A key issue will be restarts and if competitors can challenge from the inside lane since the top lane is the preferred line.

“I think it depends on where the leader restarts,” Busch said. “If the leader chooses the bottom, takes the bottom, I think the bottom will roll. If the leader chooses the outside, takes the outside, I think the top will roll a spot. Too hard to predict right now.

If you’re third, the guy goes off in the corner in front of you, hugs the line, doesn’t give you any air, you’re screwed. If the guy on the outside kind of hugs the guy on the inside, if you’re in fourth, you’re screwed. There’s no air. You got to have a middle ground.  There’s got to be separation for air to be able to get to the front of your car.”

None of the championship 4 drivers had any serious issues in the session. Hamlin missed the entrance of pit road at the end of one run and had to make an extra lap.

“This is the first year (I’ve) really kind of just gone by marks on the racetrack for pit entry,” Hamlin said. “I hadn’t had a mark here. Obviously a different package slows down differently and whatnot. Just went too far.”

Why didn’t Hamlin have a particular mark picked out to use for his entry to pit road?

“I’m just a feel and visual” type of driver, he said. “I don’t have a specific spot where I stop. I just kind of do it off of feel. But just had a different process.”

No one seemed to mind that qualifying was canceled to run this practice session. By doing so, Hamlin will lead the field to green and have the No. 1 pit stall.

“It’s that good karma for giving up that pit box last year,” Hamlin said. “It all comes back around.”

Hamlin won the pole for last year’s race but didn’t pick that advantageous stall, allowing Busch, who was racing for the title, to have that stall.

Oh, that UFC fighter? Colby Covington will fight for the welterweight title Dec. 14 in Las Vegas. He sought Busch’s advice for the proper mindset entering a championship event.

“Don’t give a shit about who you’re fighting, go kick their ass,” Busch said. 

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