Four Drivers Break 200mph Barrier In Michigan Test
For the second consecutive week, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams tested on a newly repaved race track and the reaction coming out of Thursday’s test session at Michigan International Speedway ranged from “holding your breath” to “being quite a rush.” Speeds exceeded the 200 mile per hour barrier, with four drivers posting fastest lap times in excess of 200 miles per hour in the morning session when conditions were ideal for going fast. Teams arrived a day early to prepare for Sunday’s running of the 44th annual Quicken Loans 400 at MIS (1 p.m., TNT). For the first time since 1995, the 2.0-mile layout at MIS received a fresh coat of asphalt – 22,000-tons worth. Mark Martin (No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) laid down the fastest average lap in the morning session, clicking off a lap of 201.089 mph. Others that eclipsed the 200 mph mark included Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet – 200.999), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota – 200.306), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/The Dark Knight Rises/National Guard Chevrolet – 200.206).
In the afternoon session, defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet) ran the fastest lap at 201.896 mph. A total of seven drivers went over the 200-mph mark in the afternoon practice. For the day, Martin had the best 10 consecutive lap average of 197.434 mph. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, described what it felt like navigating the new surface at MIS. “It is quite a rush for the driver to be going this fast,” said Johnson. “There seems to be a good combination with the new surface and the tire that Goodyear brought. I feel comfortable in the car, although it’s still quite the challenge as a driver to get around at these high speeds.” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition, said that the feedback he was receiving from the drivers and teams about the new pavement was positive. “We’re getting good reports from the teams on how the new surface is doing,” said Pemberton. “That, plus the fact that Goodyear has done another outstanding job with picking a good tire for this event, things are shaping up for a really good event here on Sunday.”
John Darby, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director, said that from a technical standpoint, things were checking out well following the morning session. “Just like last week at Pocono, with the new repave, we want to make sure we have the gear ratio correct, cooling issues are nonexistent and from a technical side, all systems are go,” said Darby. “When a track gets a facelift like this, you have to make sure all things check out and we have seen that they do.” The NASCAR Nationwide Series hits the track Friday at 8:30 a.m. for its first of three practice sessions. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams resume practice again tomorrow (Friday) at 12:30 p.m.
Kurt Busch, Phoenix Racing Decide To Stay Together For Now
There's one thing certain about Tuesday's statement from team owner James Finch about the status of wayward driver Kurt Busch -- it should be read with background music, specifically Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." Busch, who still has two days left on a 10-day suspension that kept him out of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono, met with Finch on Tuesday. Together they decided that Busch would continue to drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. "We have met with Kurt," Finch said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "At the end of the day, we are racers so we're going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. We know adjustments have to be made but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself. We're going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor -- and we're going to do that together."
NASCAR suspended Busch on June 3 for a verbal confrontation with a reporter after the June 1 Nationwide Series race at Dover. Busch was on probation at the time for driving through Ryan Newman's pit in the May 12 Cup race at Darlington, while several of Newman's crewmen were still working in the pit stall. During interviews throughout the week preceding their meeting, Finch had said in essence that Busch had to improve his behavior and stop wrecking race cars if Busch was to remain with the team. By Finch's count, Busch had wrecked 14 cars since starting to drive for the organization in February. Finch also said that, if Busch were to continue to drive for him, it would be on a race-by-race basis. Tuesday's statement did not elaborate on the specific arrangements between the owner and driver, but Busch will be in the car this weekend at Michigan. (NASCAR Wire Service)
When it came to pit road, all Sunday's Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR lacked was a fleet of cop cars with flashing lights and sirens. All told, NASCAR handed out 22 pit road speeding penalties, with most offenders clocked too fast at the exit from pit road. That easily eclipsed the Sprint Cup Series record of 14 speeding penalties at Kansas in 2006. Jimmie Johnson's recent surge was derailed -- at least to some extent -- by two speeding penalties, both on exit. Johnson lost a lap, got it back and eventually finished fourth behind winner Joey Logano. Though he salvaged a top-five, Johnson was convinced there was something wrong with the final segment (or timing loop) on pit road.
Nothing wrong, says NASCAR, just different. "There is a segment down there where something is just not like it normally is," Johnson said after the race. "I got nailed twice, and I know a lot of other guys got nailed. There's something wrong with the timing loop, and the orange line (at the end of pit road) and the way the drivers interact with that. Normally, when we hit the orange line (which NASCAR refers to as yellow), we go, and I did that the first time we got nailed. The second time, I waited until the tail (of the car) was over and got nailed. We'll look into it and see what happened." NASCAR measures pit road speed from the yellow line at the entrance to pit road to the yellow line at the exit. The full distance is divided into segments, and drivers must average the speed limit (plus a tolerance of 4.99 mph) through each segment. Cup cars don't have speedometers, so drivers must calculate their speed using the tachometer. (For example, 4,200 rpm in second gear might equal 55 mph, the pit road speed at Pocono.)
The 2.5-mile race track was repaved this year, and pit road was lengthened. The number of segments grew from 10 to 11, and the length of the final segment increased from 56 to 83 feet. NASCAR provides specific information on the pit road configuration to any team that wants it. The changes from one year to the next, however, seems to have confounded more than one driver/crew chief combination, but NASCAR stood by the accuracy of its measurements. "Our position is like it's always been -- yellow line to yellow line," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "This track's gone under a lot of reconfiguration since last year. It's all brand-new pit road, all brand-new loops. Positions have been changed since last year. Sections are smaller than they were last year throughout pit road -- and actually, the last section's a little bit bigger. "But the bottom line is, every week when we go into a race track, there's maps that are printed back here for the crew chiefs to come get. Some choose to get 'em, some choose to measure their own lines, and some go off of last year's measurements. We put the loops in the racetrack, and it's just simple math. There's a lot of changes that went on here between last year and this year, gear changes and everything....There's nothing wrong with the loops. It is what it is." (NASCAR Wire Service)
Earnhardt - Letarte Not Willing To Gamble
Even though drivers who chose not to pit on Lap 137 -- including race winner Logano -- gambled and won, eighth-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said crew chief Steve Letarte's call to refuel under caution on that lap was the right one. Earnhardt had one of the strongest cars at Pocono. He led 36 laps, second only to Logano's 49. But neither the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet nor his crew chief was willing to gamble their position in the Sprint Cup standings by risking an empty fuel cell.
Earnhardt is second in points, 10 behind leader Matt Kenseth, and there are 12 races left before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field is set at Richmond. "I back his call that he made today," Earnhardt said of Letarte. "I don't like running out of gas. I ran out of gas here one year, and that pisses me off so bad that it's hard to recover from it the next couple of weeks. I'm not going to give up 30 points or 20 points in a race -- not just yet. I like the call we made today. We raced back up to eighth. Didn't win the race. Might not have won the race. Might have run third -- I don't know. It was the right call for us at this time. We had a really, really good car. That was fun. That was the funnest car I've had all year and the best car I've had at Pocono in a long, long time. I'm trying not to be too upset about it, because we did a lot of good things today, and we've got a lot to look forward to." (NASCAR Wire Service)
AJ Allmendinger Has Bad Day
It was bad enough that AJ Allmendinger's No. 22 Penske Dodge was swept up in an accident in the third corner of the first lap. Worse was the hit he took when his car slammed the Turn 2 wall on Lap 65, after blowing a tire. Worse than the impact, which Allmendinger described as one of the hardest hits of his career, was yet another day of wretched luck. Allmendinger finished 31st and dropped two spots to 25th in the standings, hardly the way he imagined his first season with team owner Roger Penske. "There are no words to explain it," Allmendinger said after the wreck. "In my worst nightmare, I didn't think the season would go this bad. You've got two options: you quit, or you keep working harder. "I've been six years in this. I've experienced bad stuff before in NASCAR, so I ain't going to quit. We'll just keep working harder. We've got to figure out how to turn it around." (NASCAR Wire Service)
Joey Logano Finally Wins One On His Own At Pocono
On a speedway with a fresh coat of asphalt, Joey Logano may just have gotten a fresh start. After reclaiming the lead from veteran Mark Martin on Lap 157 of 160, Logano pulled away to win the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR at Pocono Raceway, his first Sprint Cup Series victory since a rain-shortened win at New Hampshire in 2009. More important, the second triumph of Logano's career couldn't have come at a better time -- during a contract year in which doubters have considered the 22-year-old a prime candidate to lose his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to a more established star. "I hope it shuts 'em all up," was Logano's terse wish for his critics after he climbed from his winning No. 20 Toyota. Logano, who gave successful former NASCAR Nationwide Series crew chief Jason Ratcliff his first Cup win, beat Martin to the finish line by .997 seconds, the first time in 31 Sprint Cup events a driver has won from the pole. Tony Stewart ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
The race was vindication for Logano in another respect. He had claimed his other Cup win by staying on the track and hoping for rain when stronger cars came to pit road. The gamble paid off, but winning a race in the rain paled in comparison to crossing the finish line under full power ahead of 42 other cars. In fact, Logano said Sunday's victory felt like his first Cup win. "To me, it does," he acknowledged. "The first win came -- it came soon, it came under rain delay -- so this is a different feel. But when you cross the line, and you've won the race, it's, like I said earlier, it's an amazing feeling. It's amazing how much more it means than a Nationwide win. "Not to take anything away from that, those Nationwide wins are a lot of fun, but I think Jason knows when you're racing against the best race car drivers with the best race teams out there, and to be able to beat them is -- it's, to me, the best of the best out here."
In a bizarre race that featured 22 pit road speeding penalties -- a record for a Cup race -- Matt Kenseth ran seventh and took over the series lead by 10 points over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came home eighth after leading 36 laps, second only to Logano's 48. When NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race after Kasey Kahne pounded the Turn 2 wall on Lap 37, Earnhardt -- short on fuel -- brought his Chevrolet to the pits for gas only, while Logano, Martin, Hamlin, Stewart and Kenseth remained on the track. Earnhardt restarted 16th and worked his way back to eighth before Logano took the checkered flag. In the closing laps, Logano and Martin stepped up the level of drama on the racetrack. Martin grabbed the lead with an aggressive move to the outside in Turn 1, after a restart on Lap 153.
For the next four laps, Logano chased the man who eight years ago had tabbed him a future Cup champion. As the drivers completed Lap 156, Logano pulled even near the start/finish line and cleared Martin's Camry through Turn 1. "(I) Went into 1 and tried to outbrake him, and he was protecting the bottom," Logano said. "I was trying to stick my nose in there, and we got really close, and I'm not even sure if we touched each other or not, but I know I got him aero-loose at least and (was) able to slide up underneath him and clear him by the time he got off of (Turn) 1. Making sure I cleared him was a very important moment. You start side-drafting down those straightaways and the 14 car (Stewart) is going to be there ready to pounce before you knew it. To clear him, get through (Turn) 2 and get a little distance on him was very important."
To Martin, who thought there was contact between the cars, Logano's winning move was an accepted part of the sport, but not one he would use himself. "Well, I'd call that a bump-and-run," Martin said. "It's been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It's not how I would have done it, but certainly, if I'd have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return (bump). But I couldn't quite keep up with him. "It was great racing, and everybody does what they're -- what they decide to do. It was a great race, and I'm very, very proud of my race team for putting me in something that would give me a shot. I'm having fun. Maybe next week we'll be the ones with the trophy."
Notes: Greg Biffle's No. 16 Ford suffered engine issues late in the race. Biffle finished 24th and fell from first to third in the series standings, 16 points behind Kenseth, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate....Mark Martin finished second for the seventh time at Pocono....There were seven cautions for a total of 36 laps....There were 21 lead changes amoung ten different drivers. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Joey Logano Wins The Race For Pocono's Pole
Joey Logano may have left some speed on the race track, but he had enough on Saturday afternoon to win the pole for Sunday's Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR at newly repaved Pocono Raceway. In a qualifying session that saw 36 drivers break Kasey Kahne's 2004 track record of 172.533 mph, Logano was fastest, collecting his first Coors Light pole award of the season and the fourth of his career. Unlike most drivers who followed him in the qualifying order, Logano backed up his Sprint-Cup-Series-best time from Friday's final practice session at the 2.5-mile triangular track. Logano covered the distance in 50.112 seconds (179.598 mph), beating Carl Edwards for the top starting spot by .205 seconds. Edwards (178.866 mph) will start second ahead of Paul Menard (178.582 mph), and Logano's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Kyle Busch (178.575 mph) and Denny Hamlin (178.543 mph).
Hamlin, a four-time race winner at Pocono, was ahead of Logano's pace until an oil line broke on his No. 11 Toyota as he entered Turn 3. Hamlin skated in his own oil and lost his advantage as he completed the lap. Turn 1 was a problem area, with oil-dry from Friday afternoon's ARCA practice covering the racing groove. Logano felt he lost a little momentum in the corner, but the lap stood up. "The track was dirty," Logano said. "When I went out there and got to that trouble spot, I got loose a little bit and didn't get to the bottom as well as I wanted to. So I felt like I left a tenth and a half (of a second) or so right there, but I felt like I nailed (Turns) 2 and 3 pretty well. "I was hoping it would be in the top five, and it ended up being good enough."
Conventional wisdom, even as the session progressed, was that the 50-second barrier (180 mph) would fall. But Logano went out 18th and waited as his time stood up to the 26 drivers who succeeded him in the qualifying order. Edwards was at a loss to explain why times weren't faster during a session that began in cool overcast and ended with the sun peeking through the layer of clouds. "I think it's really hard to determine what makes this track faster right now," Edwards said. "I don't know if being a little warmer makes it faster. I thought, as we went on and that speedy-dry and the groove got cleaned off, that people would go a lot faster, so it's a surprise to me." --/-- Notes: Series leader Greg Biffle and second-place Matt Kenseth will start 13th and 14th, respectively. David Stremme brushed the wall off Turn 1 on his first qualifying lap and failed to make the 43-car field. (NASCAR Wire Service)
NASCAR Hotpass Lineup At Pocono Raceway
NASCAR Hotpass on DirecTV is free to all DirecTV customers. Four dedicated driver channels offering viewers multiple camera angles, real-time statistics and audio of the network broadcast augmented by live communication between the drivers and their pit crews are available for all 36 point-paying races during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The NASCAR Hotpass lineup for the Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway is as follows:
DIRECTV Channel 795: Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 FedEx Autism Speaks Toyota team of Joe Gibbs Racing
DIRECTV Channel 796: Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet team of Stewart-Haas Racing
DIRECTV Channel 797: Martin Truex Jr., and the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota team of Michael Waltrip Racing
DIRECTV Channel 798: Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 88 AMP Energy / National Gaurd Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports