NASCAR track records likely to be shattered in Michigan

Jun 12, 2012 3:05 AM

If you were amazed at the speeds obtained last week at Pocono with the new repave, then you’ll be blown away this week at Michigan.

There were 36 drivers beating Pocono’s track record during last Saturday’s qualifying with the pole sitter and eventual winner, Joey Logano, breaking the mark by 7 mph.

In April, five drivers did a Goodyear tire test on Michigan’s new surface. Although official speeds weren’t kept, all indications are we’ll be seeing a track record shattered again this week.

“This place is fast. I mean fast, fast,” Juan Pablo Montoya said during the testing. “Our minimum speed this morning was over 180 mph through the corner when you think about it. We are doing easily over 210 mph at the end of the straight.”

With speeds like that, don’t be surprised to see NASCAR implement a restrictor-plate by the time they visit Michigan again in August, especially if it is determined that the quality of racing is diminished and safety is compromised.

The April session was just a test for tires and not one where crew chiefs were doing everything they could to maximize speed like they will this week.

Since this is an entirely new ball game for most teams we have to down grade past history at Michigan when formulating a strategy to determine who presents the best opportunity to win this week. We can use a lot of what we saw last week at Pocono as a barometer because of the long straightaway there that required lots of horsepower.

We can also figure in two of the faster tracks on the circuit like Texas and Charlotte, but most of all, this weekend’s practice schedule will be the bulk of the equation. Also, you can simply throw everything out the window and take your chances by picking one of the four Hendrick drivers who can be expected to have one of the fastest cars on the track.

The driver that would be easy to gravitate towards is Jimmie Johnson who has found himself in his patented dominant zone over the last month. Surprisingly, though, Michigan is one of the few tracks on the circuit that Johnson has never won on. He’s 0-for-20, but he’s been close on several occasions.

In 2009 Johnson led 311 of the 400 laps between both races that season and ran out of fuel, one of them on the final lap while leading. Last August, Johnson was leading with 13 laps to go but fell short as Kyle Busch made the winning pass.

“I’ve had a few in the bag at Michigan,” Johnson said over the weekend. “It’s not like I haven›t had the speed or been on pace.”

Johnson has five wins on Michigan’s sister track at California which is almost identical to Michigan – making it odd that the five-time champion wouldn’t have visited the winner’s circle yet. Perhaps the new surface will change his fortune and get him his first win.

In addition to Hendrick Motorsports, the teams that looked very strong in the horsepower department last week were Michael Waltrip’s stable and Joe Gibbs’ fleet of cars.

Mark Martin was strong throughout last week›s testing and practice and carried over to a runner-up finish at Pocono. For whatever it’s worth, Martin has five wins on the old surface of Michigan over his career.

A Toyota has won four of the last five Michigan races with a Joe Gibbs driver taking three of the wins led by Denny Hamlin who won the last two spring races there.

The Jack Roush drivers have traditionally been good Michigan with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards combining for six wins, but none over the last three seasons. Kenseth took over the season point lead away from Biffle who slipped all the way to third after leading for most of the season.

The driver sitting second in points is Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was very strong last week with the Hendrick backing. This also happens to be the site of his last victory (2008), which came 145 races ago.

Junior is running well enough to win and has the power. It would seem fitting that he end the streak here at a place that is kind of an unknown and have Junior come full circle to get the monkey off his back.