NASCAR holds open test on Thursday
Speeds top 200 MPH in advance of Quicken Loans 400
If today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session was any indication of things to come, don’t blink or you will certainly miss the fastest weekend in Michigan International Speedway history.
MIS repaved its race track in the fall of 2011 and the results have been met with approval from the drivers. And they can go really fast on the surface.
All 43 drivers who practiced on Thursday posted speeds faster than the track record of 194.232 mph set by Ryan Newman in 2005.
No NASCAR Sprint Cup driver has exceeded 200 mph in qualifying since 1987 when Bill Elliott established the record of 212.809 in April of ’87.
During the open test on Thursday a total of seven drivers exceeded 200 mph, led by Tony Stewart. It could be a record-setting qualifying session on Saturday starting at 1:10 p.m. in preparation for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 slated to being at 1 p.m.
Stewart registered a fast lap of 201.896 mph. Also posting speeds of over 200 mph was Greg Biffle (201.556), Kurt Busch (201.174), Kevin Harvick (200.697), Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (200.658) Paul Menard (200.111) and Clint Bowyer (200.078).
“Man, this place is really, really, really fast,” Biffle said. “Every lap is like a qualifying lap. You’re holding your breath. You make about three laps, come in and think about it for a while. The track is so damn wide. That’s why I love racing here.
“We’re definitely going to gain some attention at 218 (going into the first turn). It’s been a long time since we’ve gone that fast.”
Not to be outdone, the ARCA Racing Series also held a practice session Thursday at MIS in preparation for its RainEater Wiper Blades 200 scheduled to start at 5:15 p.m. on Friday. Qualifying is slated to start at 10 a.m. on Friday.
ARCA’s MIS qualifying record of 189.623 mph, set by Cale Gale last year, seems certain to fall by the wayside.
Three drivers exceeded the record led by Kevin Swindell with a speed of 193.143 mph. Matt Lofton (191.149) and Kyle Larson (190.049) also posted practice speeds faster than the current MIS qualifying record.
“ It’s quite a rush for the drivers when you go this fast with an average lap time of over 200,” said Jimmie Johnson, who registered the 10th-fastest practice speed of 199.104. “You certainly feel the speed and the comfort is there. This asphalt and tire compound seems to be pretty decent. We wouldn’t be able to run this fast if we didn’t have comfort in the car and not a lot of grip. We’re in a bit of a comfort zone right now as a group because of last week’s experience and our eyes are kind of calibrated for the speed.
“The comfort is in the car but the challenge is still there for the driver. Every lap does feel like a qualifying lap but right now the comfort is there and you complete the lap and kind of giggle and say, ‘I got away with that. It’s pretty awesome.’”