Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., emerged as early favorites to contend for Saturday's Quaker State 400 title by making strong NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) practice showings today at Kentucky Speedway.

Busch led the series morning practice with a 177.801 mph (30.371 seconds) lap and backed the effort up with a 172.723 mph lap that was good for seventh in the final practice session.

The only driver to own four career Kentucky Speedway victories in four different series will roll out 45th for this afternoon's 5:00 p.m., qualifying session.

Earnhardt Jr. showed second on the speed chart in the morning practice session with a 176.817 mph (30.540 seconds) lap and was fifth in the final practice after turning a 173.144 mph lap. He will hit the track 44th in this afternoon's Quaker State 400 qualifying session.

"The car feels good when we are in qualifying setup. We got a little loose out there but everyone is feeling that because of all of this heat," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There is no real distinct groove here and that can lead to lots of side by side racing. Just about every time you change your tires here, you have to find a new groove that works for you and keeps the racecar fast."

Earnhardt Jr. placed 30th in his NSCS Kentucky Speedway debut last season, but comes to Kentucky Speedway third in NSCS standings and riding momentum from a five-race stretch in which he's earned a Michigan International Speedway victory along with a combined two top-five and four top-10 finishes.

"I didn't run as well as I thought I would here last year and I don't really know why. I think we are a better team this year and I expect to run better this year," Earnhardt Jr., added. "If we don't have at least a top-10 car this weekend I will definitely be disappointed and concerned."

Five-time NSCS Hendrick Motorsports champion Jimmie Johnson was third in the opening session with a 176.540 mph (30.588 seconds) lap.

His teammate and four-time NSCS champion Jeff Gordon led final practice with a 175.097 mph lap. Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski made a nice recovery from an opening session incident with Juan Pablo Montoya and was second on the final session speed chart with a 174.633 mph lap. Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kentucky Speedway winner, was third in the second session with a 173.958 mph circuit.

Tickets for this afternoon qualifying session and tonight's NASCAR Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 race remain on sale through the tickets page of this Web site, by phone at (859) 578-2300, and at the Kentucky Speedway gates and corporate offices at the track.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

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