Truex fastest in final practice


Staff report

HOMESTEAD, Fla.

Martin Truex Jr. ended NASCAR’s final practice on top.

If he does it today when it counts and Truex will drive away with his first NASCAR Cup championship.

Truex was fastest in the final practice of the season, hitting 171.195 mph on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway and again stamping himself as the driver to beat in the finale. He has led the Cup Series in nearly every measurable category and is a seven-time winner this year.

“I think we definitely have enough speed to do what we need to do,” Truex said.

Truex, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick race for the title in the winner-take-all format that crowns a champion. Truex’s No. 78 Toyota scraped the wall in practice Saturday and it still didn’t matter.

Busch, the 2015 series champ, was sixth (169.492), 2012 champ Brad Keselowski was 11th (168.824) and 2014 championKevin Harvick was 18th (166.795).

Busch, of Joe Gibbs Racing, hoped to join seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the only active drivers with multiple titles.

“Everything looks a lot similar to 2015 right now,” he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a solid seventh in practice, but an engine change will drop him to the rear of the field for his final NASCAR Cup race .

The champ walks away with the sport’s biggest prize. Earnhardt, Danica Patrick and Matt Kenseth are set to walk away.

NASCAR says goodbye to its most popular driver. Earnhardt makes the 631st and final start of his Cup career, ending a run that included two Daytona 500 championships and an unyielding love from his “Junior Nation” fan base.

Earnhardt is winless this year and, at 21st in the standings, is on pace for his worst full-season finish since 2009.

But none of those sad stats really matters today.

Earnhardt will receive a fitting farewell at Homestead, much like the celebrations thrown each of the last two years for retired champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

“I just want to run all the laps. I want to finish the race in one piece,” he said. “I don’t have anything outside the car that’s on a to-do list. As far as I’m concerned, I’m good with coming in here and doing the things we always do every race weekend.”

Earnhardt will join the NBC Sports broadcast booth next season.

Patrick shed tears Friday when she announced the end of her racing career was on the horizon. Patrick will wrap up the regular season at Homestead and race only in a Danica Double next season. She’ll drive in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 for a yet-to-be-determined team.

But this is it for a full-time ride at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Patrick landed on magazine covers and Super Bowl commercials and popped up on TV cooking shows, among her many outside endeavors, during her reign as one of NASCAR’s top personalities.

She just never had the results to match the hype.

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