Gordon leads way in NASCAR's final practice at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Jeff Gordon was the best of NASCAR's four title contenders in the final practice before NASCAR's championship-deciding season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gordon had the top 10-lap average around the 1.5-mile track Saturday, averaging 169.489 mph during his first 10 laps of the session. Joey Logano turned the fastest single lap to top the speed chart.
''The very first run that final practice was great. I felt really good about it,'' said Gordon, who will try Sunday to win his fifth championship in the final race of his career. He's retiring after the finale and will be an analyst for Fox next year.
But he has a rare opportunity to win the championship he's been chasing since 2001 on the same day he completes his 23-year career. Very few drivers are still racing for wins - let alone championships - when they climb out of their car for the final time.
Gordon said he was looking forward to a low-key Saturday night with his wife and some friends before attempting to get some sleep in his motorhome at the track. He'll wake up Sunday ready to face reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Busch had the fourth-best 10-lap average then hustled across the garage to run the Xfinity Series race.
Busch is trying to complete a remarkable comeback season in which he broke his right leg and left foot in a crash at Daytona and missed the first 11 races of the year. He noted that exactly eight months ago Saturday he was undergoing surgery, and said the pressure of racing for the title is nothing compared to the rehabilitation he did to get back in the car.
''I don't think (Sunday) is going to be near as hard as what it was back in March or April going through the therapy,'' he said. ''It seems pretty easy, it seems pretty far gone now that I'm here walking and I'm racing, I'm winning and have a chance for the championship.''
Truex was seventh on the speed chart, and Harvick was 16th. The reigning champion has lagged behind the other title contenders the entire weekend but crew chief Rodney Childers wasn't worried.
''The car seems to have had pretty good speed, definitely a lot better than what we were here last year,'' Childers said. ''We will make a few adjustments for the race to try to keep the car tightened up and hopefully be good.''
Less optimistic was Truex, who is racing for a Cup championship for the first time.
''We haven't made any gains on it. It's been a frustrating day,'' Truex said. ''We have been struggling with the car and we really haven't hit on anything that helped it. So we are going to go in there and work on it right now and hopefully come up with something.''
Looking to play spoiler on Sunday is Logano, who was probably the best driver in the Chase but failed to advance out of the third round of NASCAR's playoffs. He was headed to the win at Martinsville when Matt Kenseth deliberately wrecked him, and the victory instead went to Gordon. With the win came an automatic berth in Sunday's finale.
Logano opened the season with a win in the Daytona 500. Despite being eliminated from the Chase with three victories in the second round, he would be content closing the year with a win at Homestead.
He's refused to be bitter about not racing for the championship, knowing it won't do his team any good.
''Life is short, and really if you look at this, this is a drop in the bucket,'' Logano said. ''Hopefully, I have a long career in this and I can be doing this for a while. This is one season, and if you look at our stats this year, it's nothing to hold our heads down about.
''As a driver you're one of the leaders of the team and your attitude is contagious, and I think you need to be positive, at least for me. It works for me.''