June 17, 2012
By Kim Roberson
Last weekend, I talked about the higher speeds we were going to see in Pocono due to the resurfacing of that track.
But the pole speed was only 180 mph, and the average speed was 131 mph over the course of the race.
During testing on the new track prior to the race, the highest average speed was 177 mph. There was mention of speeds in excess of 200 mph, including a speed of close to 212 mph entering turn 1, but no complete laps were timed above that qualifying lap put down by Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet.
In recent years, the only time you have heard talk about running a race with full laps in excess of 200 mph has involved restrictor plates and 2.5-mile tracks in Daytona Beach and Talladega. But that appears to be on the verge of changing today as 43 men get behind the wheel at the newly paved Michigan International Speedway and race 400 miles.
Fourteen drivers -- a third of the field -- surpassed the 200 mph lap mark during final practice Friday. The high speeds are only a slight surprise considering that during tests on the new surface back in April cars were running 215mph on the straightaway.
“One of the key things that I see about the track is the decision to repave it in October versus waiting until this season,” noted Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Light Dodge, after the test in April. “It has given the track extra time to cure which I think is going to speed up the process of getting the track to be very racy.”
Racy might be an understatement from what we have seen already this week.
Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3-M Ford, ran a lap of 204.708 mph during the final practice at Michigan Friday. The slowest car in practice on Friday ran a lap of over 190 mph -- faster than any lap run in Pocono last weekend. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, ran the highest ten lap average speed on Friday at 197.451 mph. All but three cars ran faster than the old track record of 194.232 mph.
The higher speeds seemed to be taking a toll on the tires that had originally been chosen for this race, leading the left side tires to blister, which in turn forced Goodyear Tire to reevaluate and change the tires to be used today. A press release on Friday stated “when Goodyear tested at Michigan in preparation for this race on April 3-4, the fastest average lap speed topped out in the 198 mph range. The higher speeds caused significantly higher left-side tire temperatures, which caused Goodyear to take this step.”
The new tire will have a tougher tread compound as well as a different construction and different mold shape from the ones that have been run in practice. Goodyear will ship enough tires from its warehouse in Cornelius, N.C., to Michigan for teams to have 10 sets of tires for the race, matching the original limit.
"I think we're approaching some safety concerns at the speeds we're going -- I don't know that we're quite there yet, though," noted Biffle after practice Friday, which showed an increase of almost 7 mph from just two months ago. "We're certainly pushing the envelope with the extra speed. The wall still isn't going to move when you get there."
"It's been quite a rush for the drivers," said five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. "I don't have any concerns about the speeds. Granted, I haven't seen one hit the wall yet to see how the car reacts with the SAFER barrier at this pace, (but) at least the balance that we have under our racecar right now has been very comfortable to drive."
“I feel like our sport is extremely safe until something goes wrong,” noted Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re going 220 mph or 150 mph. You don’t want to hit anything. There’s always that dangerous side of it everywhere we go. And this weekend everything is perfectly safe and fun unless something goes wrong. But at these speeds if it happens at the wrong place you know, there’s some unknowns that are out there that are going to certainly; I think the speeds, to me, I’m not looking at it from the danger-side of it. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re going that fast. The cars feel good. They’re certainly stuck to the race track. But there’s no doubt in the back of all of our minds, you don’t want anything to go wrong at that speed. And, that’s part of racing.”
Let’s hope that we don’t find out what a car at that speed on this track looks like against a SAFER Barrier, and that all we see is some good, exciting racing today.
By the way, today is Father’s Day. One cool thing that several drivers are doing to pay tribute to their dad’s today is trading out their name for their dad’s over the drivers’ side door. Since many of these men were first taken to a track and introduced to racing by their father, it seems like a fitting tribute.
As for my dad, he will likely be sitting in his man cave at home, watching today’s race from his home town and cheering on his favorite drivers -- he roots for the Michael Waltrip Racing drivers. And afterwards, as we always do on Sunday’s, I’ll give him a call and we’ll chat about the race and how everyone did.
He raised me to love football -- and over the last eight years, I have helped him develop a love of NASCAR. That is a pretty fair trade if you ask me.
Editor's Note: With a record-setting run Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, Marcos Ambrose won the pole for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, leading 18 other drivers who broke the 200-mph barrier and 38 others who topped Ryan Newman's previous track record of 194.232 mph, set in 2005.
Ambrose claimed the first Coors Light pole award of his career with a lap at 203.241 mph (35.426 seconds), beating second-place qualifier Kevin Harvick (202.037 mph) by .211 seconds.
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.