Ryan Blaney was looking in top form in the NASCAR Nationwide Series practice sessions at Homestead-Miami Speedway ahead of this weekend's Ford EcoBoost 300 season finale.
The Truck Series regular topped both sessions on Friday, eclipsing star names from the Cup Series as well as the newly-crowned Nationwide champion Chase Elliott, who had already sealed the 2014 title last time out at Phoenix International Raceway.
In the first of the day's two practice sessions, Blaney finished fastest after 50 minutes with a lap of 32.154s (167.942mph) on the 1.5-mile intermediate track, putting the Penske driver 0.183s clear of Elliott Sadler, who is driving in his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing before he moves to Roush Fenway Racing in 2015.
Sadler's current JGR team mate and Cup regular Matt Kenseth was third fastest just ahead of Chase Elliott, who last week became the youngest ever national champion in NASCAR's history which allows him to take a more relaxed approach to this weekend's season finale and simply focus on going for the win without the distraction of having to play the points game.
After the disappointment of missing out on the title, Elliott's JR Motorsports team mate Regan Smith was fifth fastest despite making light contact with the wall during the session which left the #7 car with damage to the right-rear panel, but not likely serious enough to force Smith to resort to the backup car for the remainder of the weekend.
Smith was just ahead of TriStar Motorsports' Ross Chastain, while the next three spots went to Cup regulars Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson. Joey Logano had originally been scheduled to drive the #22 Penske car, but earlier this week he dropped out in order to focus on this week's title decider. Having been eliminated from the Chase last weekend at Phoenix, Keselowski has taken over the wheel as the team bids to win the owners championship ahead of the JGR #54 driven by Busch.
Rounding out the top ten by the end of the session was Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott, who is bidding to secure third place in the championship from Sadler and his own team mate Ty Dillon.
The second session, which lasted almost two hours, saw Blaney back on top once again this time with a slightly quicker time of 32.097s (168.240mph) on the 39th of his 45 laps. On this occasion he was was pushed hard by Richard Childress Racing's Ty Dillon who was just 0.032s behind having been just 12th fastest earlier in the day.
With the sun setting over the circuit, Kyle Busch was third fastest ahead of Elliott Sadler, Kyle Larson and Brian Scott, while Matt Kenseth was seventh fastest ahead of John Wes Townley. Brad Keselowski was one spot back from his first session placement in ninth place, and Regan Smith rounded out the top ten after edging out RFR's Trevor Bayne by two hundredths of a second.
This time, Elliott was only 14th fastest in the late afternoon session, putting him just behind Dylan Kwasniewski (TSM) and Chris Buescher (RFR).
With no more practice time available to the drivers, qualifying for this weekend's Ford EcoBoost 300 is next up and will take place on Saturday afternoon, with the race itself set to take the green flag shortly after 4.30pm local time (9.30pm GMT).
Before that, there will be qualifying for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series season finale, and also the last NASCAR Camping Truck Series race of 2014 which will be held on Friday evening under the floodlights.
Full practice 1 times
Full practice 2 times
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