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NASCAR Roundup: Truex Jr. starts up front in Sunday's Cup decider

NASCAR Wire Service
November 18. 2017 9:38PM
William Byron celebrates winning the NASCAR Xfinity Championship after the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida on Saturday. Byron finished third in the race, which was won by Cole Custer. Byron clinched the title by being the top finisher among the Championship 4 contenders: Byron, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric. (USA TODAY Sports)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - In opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Championship 4 driver Martin Truex Jr. brushed the outside wall hard enough to scrape the paint off the right rear of his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.

Truex's team took great care in repairing that area of the car, which is extremely sensitive from aerodynamic standpoint. Clearly, it was a job well done.

In final practice, Truex posted the fastest lap - by a bunch. He toured the 1.5-mile speedway in 31.543 seconds (171.195 mph). Clint Bowyer was a distant second at 169.790 mph. Kyle Busch was the second-fastest Playoff driver, sixth overall at 169.492 mph.

"I thought we were pretty close," Truex said after Happy Hour. "Need to get the balance a little better, but I think we definitely have enough speed to do what we need to do. Just have to get the balance right.

"Conditions, trying to plan on finishing this race at night is part of what we're trying to figure out. I think we changed enough and made enough adjustments today and we learned a lot. That gives us a lot to look at tonight and make the right decisions based off of that."

As the series leader in victories with seven, Truex is quietly confident entering the season finale. He'll start on the outside of the front row next to pole winner Denny Hamlin.

"I feel really good," Truex said. "We've been in this position before - I've raced for a championship here twice now. Came out on top of one and not the other - I'm 50-50, and those are pretty good odds with four of us, I'd say.

"I feel good, we've got good speed, and I just need to make sure we get the balance right for (today) and you never know how these things are going to play out. We'll just try to do our normal deal and make smart decisions and be around at the end of this thing and have a shot at it."

Short strokes

In a move that should delight drivers and crew chiefs alike, NASCAR on Saturday informed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams they could purchase one additional set of new tires for use in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Teams will now have 10 sets of new tires in addition to their qualifying tires, which drivers must use to start the Ford Eco-Boost 400. Last season teams had 13 sets of tires available.

Championship 4 driver Kevin Harvick sat out the first 15 minutes of final practice because of two inspection failures last weekend at Phoenix. When he did hit the track, Harvick was 18th fastest in single-lap speed at 166.795 mph, slowest among the four title contenders.

Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were sixth and 11th fastest, respectively. The longer the run, the better Harvick's car was relative to the others.

Sadler furious at Xfinity loss

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Elliott Sadler's despair and frustration in finishing second for the fourth time in the last seven NASCAR Xfinity Series seasons was evident on Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It was obvious when he crawled through the window of his No. 1 Chevrolet and confronted Ryan Preece, on whom he projected his anger.

The 42-year-old veteran for JR Motorsports, his 22-year career devoid of a championship in a top-three NASCAR series, was angry that Preece had impeded his way as he attempted to catch teammate William Byron while they contested the series title with nine laps to go in Turn 3.

"Tonight is the closest I've ever been to winning a championship," Sadler said. "Having the lead against (Byron), the race is in my hands to win the championship, and when I dove down into Turn 1, we'd been running behind (Preece) for 10 laps. When I dove down into (Turn) 1, I thought he was going to give it to me, and I was going to slide in front of him, and he just gassed it and pinched me down, and that was it."

"That's pretty hard to swallow. I've been racing a long time; y'all know that. But I would say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I've ever felt in my career."

Held from Preece by three officials, Sadler made his point. Preece, he believed, had no business racing a title-contending driver the way he did.

Trouble was, Preece was in fourth place, in his preferred line and trying to help his Joe Gibbs Racing team win an owners' championship at the moment Sadler failed to get past quickly enough to chase after Byron, who eventually rolled away to finish third in the race and claim his first NASCAR championship at age 19.

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