Kyle Busch was the fastest in the final Cup Series practice session of 2023 at Phoenix Raceway, posting a single lap of 130.814 mph.
The early edge among the Championship 4 participants goes to Ryan Blaney, who put down the fastest single lap of the title contenders with a 130.425 mph circuit around the 1-mile oval and showed long-run speed as the No. 12 Team Penske Ford was quickest in 15 and 20 consecutive lap average.
Christopher Bell was just behind Blaney as he was fourth overall in practice with a 130.378 mph single-lap time and has the short-run speed landing the fastest five and ten consecutive lap average in Friday evening’s 50-minute session.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson were a tad slower than the aforementioned. Byron landed seventh on the board with a 130.011 mph lap, while Larson was the only Championship 4 driver outside the top 10 with a 129.847 mph circuit around the track.
Byron posted top-five average times in five, 10, 15 and 20 consecutive laps. Larson was only 10th in 10 consecutive lap average and outside the top 10 in the 15 consecutive lap chart, but posted the eighth-best 20 consecutive lap average.
Non-title contenders Bubba Wallace (130.676 mph), Ross Chastain (130.378 mph), Joey Logano (130.072 mph), Tyler Reddick (130.011 mph), Ty Gibbs (129.959 mph) and Brad Keselowski (129.847 mph) were top 10 in practice.
In the final practice session of his career, Kevin Harvick was 12th with a 129.833 mph lap.
Championship 4 breakdown
Fastest lap: 130.378 mph (Second among Championship 4)
10-lap average: 129.600 mph (1st)
What crew chief Adam Stevens said: “Yeah, we unloaded pretty close this time. That was good. Had decent short-run speed, decent long-run speed. We made a couple of changes and they both seemed to improve the car. I mean, it was very important (to be toward the top of the practice board). I don’t know if it was more important because we’ve never led a lap. I don’t think we’re going to win this thing if we don’t lead laps. We just started so far off last time that we had a lot of ground to cover to even get in the mix. Starting closer just puts you in a lot better position. We don’t have to make big changes, we think, to be balanced, fast on Sunday. Starting a lot closer this time.”
Fastest lap: 130.425 mph (First among Championship 4)
10-lap average: 129.514 mph (2nd)
What crew chief Jonathan Hassler said: “I think the stock I’ll take into that (Blaney’s consecutive lap average speed) is Ryan Blaney gets around Phoenix really, really well. There’s never been a time here that we haven’t had speed, at least short-run speed in our car. I think the challenge for us as a team is to put a car under him that will hang on through a long run.”
Fastest lap: 130.011 mph (Third among Championship 4)
10-lap average: 129.178 mph (3rd)
What crew chief Rudy Fugle said: “It went solid. I think we fought some problems — actually, I hope to find things that I think are fixable for Sunday. Excited about that. I thought we got better by the end of practice compared to where we started, which is always a good thing. We have a good spot to go work on it. I think we got a shot.”
Fastest lap: 129.847 mph (Last among Championship 4)
10-lap average: 128.767 mph (10th)
What crew chief Cliff Daniels said: “We had to work on our car a little bit. Hard to tell being in practice. I don’t know exactly what happened. I want to say from probably hitting the apron our diffuser fell down the first run, so the car was super unhooked the first run. Kind of spooked us, so we had to sit there and look things over and check it all out. Then for the second run and beyond, we kind of had a normal race car. From what I could tell, everybody’s fighting. Rear grip on entry really both ends. Heard a lot of guys talking about that. Same is the case for us.”