CLICK: Full Cup practice 2 times from Phoenix International Raceway
CLICK: Full Cup practice 3 times from Phoenix International Raceway
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick came close to sweeping all of the Cup practice sessions at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday, and confirmed that he will likely be the man to beat in this weekend's race as he seeks to pick up what would be his third consecutive win at the one-mile tri-oval.
In the first 50 minute session on Saturday morning, Harvick recovered from the slight disappointment of qualifying to once again top the practice times with a time of 26.011s (138.403mph) on his sixth lap of the day on the one-mile oval, putting him three thousandths of a second ahead of Penske's Brad Keselowski.
The next three on the timing sheets (Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart) were all non-Chase contenders, with Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon next in sixth place two tenths of a second off Harvick's benchmark time. The Joe Gibbs Racing #20 driven by Matt Kenseth rounded out the top ten with Keselowski's team mate Joey Logano in 12th.
Kenseth's JGR team mate Denny Hamlin didn't find the same sort of speed that had won him pole position for Sunday's race and instead finished in 20th position. That was still well ahead of the remaining Chase contenders Ryan Newman (25th) and Carl Edwards (29th) both of whom appeared to be struggling to find pace in race trim.
In the second session of the day that got underway shortly after noon, Harvick was again in strong form and produced a lap of 26.265s (137.065mph), but this time it was only good enough for second place on the timesheets at the end of happy hour, with Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray going to the top with a 0.008s margin to prevent Harvick from pulling off a sweep of all three Phoenix practice sessions this weekend.
Kenseth improved on his morning time to claim third spot on the timing screens ahead of Logano, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. just pipped his team mate Jeff Gordon to fifth place. The next three places went to non-Chase drivers (Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson) with Denny Hamlin improving on his morning effort to round out the top ten.
Brad Keselowski dropped from second place in the morning to 12th in the afternoon, but the weakest of the Chase line-up remained Newman and Edwards who ended up with the 19th and 21st fastest times respectively - and improvement on their earlier showing, but still something of a concern when it comes to their likely race pace on Sunday.
Both Saturday sessions ran without incident. The next time that the Cup drivers will be out on track will be for the green flag for the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 on Sunday afternoon at 1pm local time (8pm GMT), and the outcome will decide which four of the current eight Chase contenders will still be in the running for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship next weekend at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Full Cup practice 2 times from Phoenix International Raceway
Full Cup practice 3 times from Phoenix International Raceway
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