Elliott Leads Opening Cup Practice on Friday, Keselowski 17th

The four drivers chasing Brad Keselowski for that fourth and final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 spot did everything they were supposed to do on Friday at the Phoenix Raceway. The foursome all had their cars dialed in from the get-go in the lone practice session of the day at the Phoenix Raceway and were found inside the top 10, three of which actually in the top five.

Keselowski, well he had a rough practice.

Chase Elliott topped the speed charts in his No. 24 Chevrolet with a lap around the one-mile Arizona oval at 137.368 mph. Elliott, faces a win-or-done situation for Sunday’s Can-Am 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN) and is 49 points out of the final transfer spot. That’s too much ground to make up. While Elliott led over 100 laps here back in March, he finished 12th. Last year, the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished eighth and ninth respectively. On Friday, he came out of the gates with a ton of speed. 

Martin Truex Jr. was second in his No. 78 Toyota with a speed of 137.242 mph. Truex, has already clinched a spot at Homestead, but he’s wanting to go to the South Florida track with momentum. He hasn’t had a top five at Phoenix since 2009 and is looking to end that drought and give the team some good news after hearing about team owner Barney Visser had a heartattack last weekend.

Third fastest was Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 Toyota. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver turned a lap of 136.945 mph on Friday afternoon. Hamlin, enters this weekend 19 points behind Keselowski and has the best chance out of anyone to get by him and advance to Homestead. He’s a previous winner at Phoenix too.

Hamlin’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch was fourth overall as he circled the 1.022-mile track with a speed of 136.866 mph in his No. 18 Toyota. Like Truex, Busch doesn’t have to win this weekend either as his win at Martinsville stamped his name into the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season. Busch, has four straight top five finishes at Phoenix and was a few laps away from winning back in the spring.

Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five with a speed of 136.867 mph in his No. 21. He too is chasing Keselowski as he’s 22 points out in sixth in the standings. Blaney, has never finished worse than 12th at Phoenix and will certainly be in the running.

Matt Kenseth will likely be making his final Phoenix start was sixth on the timing charts to give Toyota three drivers in the top six. Another driver chasing Keselowski is Jimmie Johnson and he was eighth overall on Friday afternoon. Kenseth and Johnson spent most of the session 1-2 on the speed charts.

Kevin Harvick was 11th while Keselowski came in 17th.

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