Kurt Busch set out his stall as a leading contender for the Coca-Cola 600 by going fastest in both of Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice sessions on Saturday.
The Stewart=Haas Racing driver was fastest in the 55-minute morning session when he recorded a lap of 28.031s (192.644mph) to go 0.141s ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth, who will start Sunday's race from pole position.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Saturday practice times from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In the afternoon practice, Busch was again fastest of anyone but couldn't quite match his earlier pace in the warmer conditions, ending up with a best lap of 28.624s (188.653mph) to go 0.245 ahead of Kasey Kahne in the #5 Hendrick Motorsports entry.
Despite clearly having one of the fastest cars on the track - he was also ninth fastest in the earlier practice - Kahne will nonetheless have to start from 33rd place for Sunday's evening race under the floodlights at the 1.5-mile intermediate track after suffering a cut tyre in qualifying on Thursday.
"It's frustrating at any time, but it does happen," said Kahne. "I think this is my third one since we started this style of qualifying last season. Third or fourth time we have had that, it happens. It's part of it and you just figure out how to be really good on Sunday and pass cars."
Last year. Busch was at the centre of attention as he did the Memorial Day weekend 'double, running in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, the longest races in the IndyCar and Sprint Cup series receptively. This year he's taking it easy and sticking to his day job in stock cars.
However Jeff Gordon will be driving at both venues on Sunday as he will be at the wheel of the pace car leading the 33 cars to the green flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, before getting on a plane to Charlotte in time for the start of his own race. Gordon was ninth fastest in morning practice, and 30th in the afternoon; he'll line up on the grid in 18th place for his final outing in the Coca-Cola 600 before he retires from competition and takes up a full-time rile as a TV commentator with Fox Sports.
Making his return to the Sprint Cup Series this weekend is JGR's Kyle Busch, who was back behind the wheel last weekend for the All-Star Race invitational but who now faces a much bigger test of his race fitness. Busch was injured in an accident at Daytona in February and has missed 11 Cup races while recuperating form a broken leg and foot, and urgently needs to get back to strong points finishes if he's to have a hope of making the Chase play-offs for the 2015 championship later in the year.
In case Busch suffers any ill-effects from the long-distance race tomorrow night, Erik Jones will once again be on stand-by to takeover for him. As long as Busch takes the green flag at the start of the race, he'll still be awarded any points due at the end even if Jones has taken over in the meantime. In order to give Jones some practice at CMS in a Cup car, the teenager was handed the keys to the #18 for the final half hour of practice on Saturday after Kyle himself earlier finished sixth fastest in the morning.
The two practices were largely without incident, although David Ragan went for a spin through the in-field grass in the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing car as he came out of turn 4 late in the morning session. AJ Allmendinger also had his hands full in what looked to be a very loose-handling JTG Daugherty Racing #47 in which he appeared to scrap the wall, although no harm was done.
See full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Saturday practice times from Charlotte Motor Speedway.