Speeds reach 218 mph in early test
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Speeds at the newly resurfaced Michigan International Speedway are very close to dangerous, one Sprint Cup driver said during Thursday's test.
"We're approaching some safety concerns at the speeds we are going," said Greg Biffle, after speeds reached 218 mph during the morning session. "We've got to walk that fine line of killing people and creating excitement."
Not every driver echoed Biffle's sentiments, and NASCAR officials said they have no plan to add restrictor plates used at Daytona and Talladega to reduce speeds.
Vice president of competition Robin Pemberton expected speeds to slow on their own as the track rubbers in and the temperature rises.
"It was nice to see the speed this morning," Pemberton said. "Maybe qualifying will get back to there -- maybe. But for the most part it will continue to slow down."
Series director John Darby said NASCAR has a speed at which liftoff is a concern as is the case at Daytona and Talladega, and "we're not there yet."
"Two hundred and one at Bristol might get us a little excited," Darby jokingly added.
We've got to walk that fine line of killing people and creating excitement.” -- Greg Biffle
Qualifying trim is when cars are set up for one fast lap as opposed to race trim, where cars are set up for long runs.
Thirty-nine of the 41 drivers participating had a top lap better than the track qualifying record of 194.232 mph by Ryan Newman in 2005.
Seven drivers topped 200 mph in the afternoon session, led by Tony Stewart at 201.896 mph in qualifying trim. Others were: Biffle (201.556), Kurt Busch (201.174), Harvick (200.697), Earnhardt Jr. (200.658), Paul Menard (200.111) and Clint Bowyer (200.078).
Not everyone agreed with Pemberton that the track will get slower as it rubbers in.
"It's going to get faster and faster,'' said one crew chief who asked not to be identified. "They're going to be hauling ass.''
But most drivers seemed comfortable with the speed.
"I don't have any concerns about the speeds," five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said. "Granted, I haven't hit the wall yet to see how the car reacts with the SAFER barriers."
This is the second straight week NASCAR has tested prior to the race weekend at a newly resurfaced track. Last week at Pocono cars reached 211 mph entering Turn 1. The difference between Pocono and Michigan speeds is drivers are able to sustain more through the banked corners at Michigan. At Pocono, they had to brake hard.
But Pemberton said the average speed still is misleading when comparing Michigan to Daytona and Talladega.
"When you look at Daytona and Talladega ... when you run a lap 203 mph your low is 202 and high is 204. Here, when you run 200 mph you may be a 215 somewhere but you're 185 somewhere else. We still feel pretty good."
And while Biffle was comfortable for the most part, he is concerned about what happens if an engine blows or a spindle breaks.
"We are going faster than we have ever gone before, and we are probably loading these cars more than we ever have, so we are certainly testing the components of the car," he said. "We certainly are pushing the envelope, and with the extra speed the wall still isn't going to move when you get there.
"It can be somewhat of a concern if the track continues to pick up speed."
On that, Bowyer agreed.
"Let me tell you, when you're fighting loose conditions and the thing snaps sideways on you and you're running 200 mph, it really gets your attention," he said.
Biffle said every lap felt like a qualifying lap and "you're holding your breath."
"You make about three [laps] and come in and think about it for a while," he said.
Biffle was eighth fastest in the morning with a fast lap of 199.253 mph in race trim.
"Qualifying trim will be spectacular, I am sure," he said.
But as Biffle and Johnson noted, spectacular speed doesn't guarantee a spectacular race on Sunday.
"You look at the places we go the absolute fastest and sometimes those are the best races to watch," Biffle said. "Sometimes the tracks that are a little bit slower put on a little better side-by-side action and more bumping and grinding.
"I can promise you that you aren't going to bump somebody at 218. ... Just because we are going fast, that doesn't mean it is going to be a great race."