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).
Teams tested the new surface at Pocono Raceway June 6-7 and that additional track time helped provide one of the most exciting and competitive races at the “Tricky Triangle” in years, with Joey Logano (No. 20 The Home Depot Toyota) claiming the win. 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.”
Pemberton went on to say that the conditions for the morning test were “optimum for posting the fast speeds.”
“With the cool temperatures (in the 60s) and the track conditions, we’re pretty sure these are the fastest speeds we are going to see at this track,” said Pemberton. “Once the track takes on more rubber and the temperatures go up (temperatures are expected to approach the 90-degree mark this weekend), you should see the speeds go down some.”
Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M-Salute Ford) said that “every lap is like a qualifying lap and you are holding your breath.”
“It’s really, really fast here,” said Biffle, who is currently third in the championship point standings. “The one thing that I have liked seeing is that the track is pretty wide. The groove is all the way up in the middle of the second groove and that is certainly going to help racing around here at those speeds because it gives us some options.”
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 at 12:30 p.m.