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Friday, June 15, 2012

Fast laps, tire wear, drafting; the unknown rules at Michigan Speedway

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- If you thought the Cup drivers were turning fast laps Thursday, it got even crazier Friday. 14 drivers finished the last practice session with a lap time over 200 mph. Greg Biffle turned an unbelievable lap of 204.708, this after many thought the track would drop off in speed after Thursday. Instead, it’s going the other way. At this pace, the pole winner Saturday might end up topping 205 mph, and will definitely top 200 mph for the first time in 25 years.

Biffle said his top speed during his best lap was 220 mph – that’s beyond fast, it’s approaching Indycar speeds.

Biffle said that the numbers seem high on paper, but the ride is really smooth out there and you don’t really notice it -- unless you hit something.

“You get so in the moment, and now I got to sit and think about how I did it. The car was just stuck to the ground really well. It wasn’t hard to drive. They did a pretty good job with the racetrack. Lots of grip, lots of fun right now.”

I give credit to NASCAR for not doing anything stupid to slow the cars down. All the drivers are OK with the speed, so NASCAR should be too. It's a different situation that Daytona and Talladega.


Some of the highest speeds in practice came when people hooked up and did a little drafting in the straightaways. Everyone said there will be no bump-drafting or drafting in the corners, but don’t be surprised if you see it in the straights. This could lead to faster speeds for some cars during the race.

I'll be curious to see how many people do this, and how often. Either way, it should give the race a unique look at times.


This is the biggest unknown on the weekend. Goodyear director of race tire sales Greg Stucker addressed the media, saying that about a quarter of the Cup garage had blistering issues with their tires, which could lead to problems on Sunday.

Still, he said it’s not likely any different tires will be brought in for the race, instead they will work with the teams to try to figure out what is causing the issue, perhaps certain types of setups they are using.

Biffle wasn’t sure whether tires would be an issue Sunday.

“Depending on the temperature, nobody has done a complete fuel run. We could see some tire issues, possibly. If we go into Sunday and it’s 90 and we’re running those kind of speeds at the end of a fuel run, they could or couldn’t be trouble.”

Goodyear’s Stucker said the issues with the tires are related to the repave and the heat that has shined down on MIS this week. Teams got their race tires in advance and were allowed to scuff them in today, meaning they have a heat cycle on them already and are less likely to blister.

“We’ve seen some things that come with a repave and that’s heat. We started seeing some blistering yesterday afternoon. We thought the wise thing to do is to make race sets available to teams so they could scuff them in and get a heat cycle in the tire. A number of them did that,” Stucker said. “We continued to see some blistering, moreso in the afternoon session. We’ll sit down with all the teams and see what we can do to continue to help the situation.”

Also, keep in mind that during an earlier test in April, the speeds were slower, so Goodyear didn’t plan for speeds this high. Stucker said the scuffing teams have done is like a little bit of “insurance”

“Everyone respects a repave. The racetrack has so much grip, there’s no penalty to pay for a scuffed tire. So you can go ahead and do that,” he said.

He said Goodyear will “probably not” change tires before Sunday, leaving the slight window open that they could – but I doubt it.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain; tire management will be key to winning Sunday’s race.

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