What’s the fastest track on the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule?
The answer is Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
The wide, sweeping corners and long straightaways of the 2-mile, D-shaped oval in the state’s scenic Irish Hills region provided the fastest two qualifying laps in 2016. Joey Logano won both poles at Michigan in 2016 with laps of 201.698 and 199.557 mph. The track record is 206.558 mph set by Jeff Gordon in August 2014.
Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), shakes his head when he describes Michigan.
“She’s a fast, fast racetrack,” Bowyer said. “It always gets your attention.”
Bowyer hasn’t won at Michigan, but his one top-five finish and 11 top-10s in 22 starts lends credibility when he talks about what it will take to win Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 Cup Series race.
“You have to have grip and a ton of horsepower,” said Bowyer, who has scored the ninth-most points in the last 10 Michigan races. “If you have both of those, you will be just fine.”
Bowyer said finding grip will also be a key to success at the high-speed track and even wondered if NASCAR and track officials will add VHT resin to the surface to increase grip, like it did at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway last month.
“I think Michigan is relatively one groove, so it will be interesting to see if the old VHT is going to show up in an attempt to make it a multi-groove track,” Bowyer said. “As the track ages, it will keep getting better and better. Right now, it seems the middle groove is where you want to be.”
Bowyer arrives at Michigan with momentum despite finishing 17th at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway last weekend after contact with the wall early in the race. It’s been a good run in 2017 for Bowyer and the Mike Bugarewicz-led team. Bowyer replaced three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired from NASCAR racing at the end of the 2016 season. In his first year at SHR, Bowyer has posted two top-fives and five top-10s.
Bowyer will debut a new Haas Automation paint scheme this weekend. His car will reverse the red and black the No. 14 has campaigned in 2017. SHR plans to run this scheme in the remaining races it carries the Haas Automation livery.
Bowyer will enjoy a little extra support this weekend. Ford Performance headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan is about 70 miles from the speedway. Ford joined SHR in 2017 and the combination has already produced a Daytona 500 victory, nine top-fives and 22 top-10s.
Bowyer has driven for each current manufacturer in NASCAR. He said Ford support has been key to SHR’s success this year.
“It’s been really cool getting to know the Ford folks this season,” Bowyer said. “What I like about Ford is the people you see in our race shop or at the track are the decision makers. If you have a suggestion, they are right there to listen to anything you have to say. I know we are going to visit with a ton of Ford folks this weekend, so winning at Ford’s home track would be pretty awesome.”