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Title contenders wrap up pivotal test at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Five of the eight remaining Monster Energy Cup Series playoff contenders participated in what could be the most crucial test of the 2017 season — at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Title contenders wrap up pivotal test at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Alex Bowman, Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Chad Knaus
Landon Cassill, Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and defending champion Jimmie Johnson were among those who tested on Wednesday and Thursday at the 1.5-mile track which will host the Nov. 19 season finale to determine this year's champion.

Johnson, a seven-time champ who is also the defending winner of the Ford EcoBoost 400, became the third consecutive driver to win both the race and championship, following Kevin Harvick in 2014 and Kyle Busch in 2015. He described the character of the track as fun.

“The surface is worn, and it really does promote great tire falloff, which we all like,” Johnson said. “There’s multiple lanes of racing, and I think the progressive banking in the turns really gives us a lot of options.”

Kyle Larson, Trevor Bayne and Clint Bowyer tested for Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing, respectively. Alex Bowman (Chevy), Landon Cassill (Ford) and Drew Herring (Toyota) piloted the wheel force cars at the test.

Blaney is experiencing the pressure of the playoffs for the first time in his career. He’s currently seventh in the standings. With an average finish of 21.5 in his first two Cup starts at Homestead, the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford was grateful for additional seat time prior to Ford Championship Weekend Nov. 17-19.

“You have two great straightaways,” Blaney said. “Then you have the corners where you try to run up against the wall. The wall is definitely the fastest place to be, but it’s really hard to run it with success without hitting it. All of that makes it really fun.”

Hamlin is the only multi-race winner at Homestead. He conquered the track in 2009 and again in 2013. But Hamlin couldn’t pull off the feat in 2010 when he entered the finale with a 15-point lead over eventual champion Johnson. Still, Homestead ranks as one of Hamlin’s favorite venues on the NASCAR circuit.

“We come here once a year, and that’s what makes it so special to me,” Hamlin said. “When you pull in and see the palm trees lined-up down the backstretch, you know that this is it. I couldn’t think of a better place or a better race track to end the season. If you ask every driver what their favorite track is, this is always going to be one of them.

“The racing has always been phenomenal here, and we just love coming to Miami. It’s just a perfect place for us to end our season and crown a series champion.”

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