Sunday's race will feed need for speed
Jun 16, 2012
If you have other plans for Sunday, change them. If you've lost interest in NASCAR over the last few years, give the sport another chance.
And if you're someone who likes to be part of or witness unique events like solar and lunar eclipses, space shuttle liftoffs and the like, you'd better make sure you're in front of your TV set at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
You can thank me later.
On the surface, Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway may seem like just another of the 36 races on the Sprint Cup Series regular season schedule. But the potential of what we may witness could potentially turn the June 17 race into a history-making and unforgettable event.
If you really have a major need for raw speed, you may see what, at least on paper, has the potential to be one of the fastest races ever seen on any track anywhere on the Cup circuit.
Since MIS introduced its 2-mile, newly repaved surface earlier in the week, it has provided record-breaking speeds – and we're just talking in testing and practice. When teams took to the track Thursday for a so-called test session, nearly a dozen drivers eclipsed the 200-mph mark.
And, several drivers went into Turn 1 and Turn 3 closing in on 215 mph as they began to transition from going straight to turning left.
In practice on Friday, the numbers – of both speeds and drivers hitting previously unheard of numbers – continued, with Greg Biffle leading the way with a best-lap whiz around MIS at 204.708 mph, followed by Australian driver Marcos Ambrose, who clocked a lap of 203.551 mph.
All told, 14 drivers surpassed 200 mph during that session.
And then on Saturday afternoon, we saw qualifying speeds that literally jumped off the charts, with Ambrose picking up where he left off on Friday, taking the pole at a stellar speed of 203.241 mph, followed by Kevin Harvick (202.037 mph). The previous track qualifying record, 194.232 mph, set in 2005 by Ryan Newman, now seems like a lifetime away as 19 drivers qualified above 200 mph on Saturday.
Ambrose's pole-winning run – the first pole of his Cup career – was the fastest in the series since Bill Elliott ran 203.827 mph at Talladega in 1987. It was consistent high speeds like that which prompted NASCAR to adopt restrictor plates at both Daytona and Talladega the following year in an effort to slow cars down so that they wouldn't get airborne and potentially fly into the stands following a wreck.
But even more importantly, Ambrose's run was the fastest ever in NASCAR history at a track other than Daytona and Talladega, and the overall 11th-fastest in Cup history. The affable Aussie is only the fourth driver in the sport's history to qualify above 200 mph (the other three, Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough and Bill Elliott, all turned the trick at either Daytona or Talladega).
"It is good bragging rights -- I'll give it that," Ambrose said. "I'm just really excited to get the speed, and to claim to be the fastest guy out there is just awesome. We've missed some poles … by thousandths of a second and conditions changing, so it's good that we actually got one to stick, and one that's got so many records attached to it.
"It felt that fast to me, too. It felt like I was getting it done. Really fun times out there."
What we're going to see Sunday – provided the prediction of possible rainstorms does not prove true – is a race that could rival those at Daytona and Talladega, but with one major difference.
This will be full, unadulterated speed – in other words, without restrictor plates.
If you thought the Coca-Cola 600 three weeks ago was fast – covering 600 miles in under four hours (an average of over 150 mph) – Sunday's 400-mile event at MIS has the potential to go from race to rocket ship ride.
If drivers don't get too crazy and take wild chances on the new smooth-as-glass surface, we could potentially see Sunday's race be completed in something like 2 1/2 hours.
Do the math: We may potentially see an average race speed at the checkered flag somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 to 170 mph.
Or maybe even faster. Given the way the drivers have adapted to the new surface so quickly, and if the race stays green for the most part, we could see an average finishing lap close in on 175 or maybe even 180 mph – although I'm going to err on the side of caution (no pun intended), and predict speeds closer to a more reasonable 160 mph.
Even if the rain holds off and there are few wrecks or mechanical failures that bring out the yellow flag, we're still bound to have at least a few caution periods that will slow the pace down somewhat.
Even if you're not a NASCAR fan – perhaps the high-tech wizardry and sauve coolness of Formula One is more your passion – tuning in to Sunday's Sprint Cup race will still be worth your time, as it will quench your thirst for speeds that we rarely see in NASCAR.
Like the first man to walk on the moon – okay, I'm exaggerating a little bit here, I admit, but can you tell how pumped I am about Sunday's race? – or your daughter going to her first Justin Bieber concert, this is going to be a rare opportunity that you shouldn't miss, because we may never see a race go this fast and at such high speeds without restrictor plates in the rest of our lifetime.
And look at the best part of it: If the race ends in less than three hours, there's still plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the late spring afternoon, to go to dinner or a movie or just spend time with friends and family. If you're a NASCAR fan, it just doesn't get any better than that.