Column: I Wanna Go Fast: Drivers Topping 201Mph In Thursday Test Session At Michigan
June 15, 2012
By: Toby Christie – Follow on Twitter @Tobalical
The point of racing has always been to prove that you are faster than the competition, but in NASCAR – at least since the inception of the restrictor plate in 1988 – the 200 mph lap average has really been where the sanctioning body has stepped in to slow the cars down in the name of safety.
Buddy Baker was the first driver in NASCAR to ever record a 200mph lap time in testing. Baker put down a lap of 200.447 mph at Talladega Superspeedway in March of 1970. However a driver didn’t officially break the 200mph barrier in an official qualifying session until Benny Parsons accomplished the feat in 1982. From 1982 to 1987 speeds slowly crept faster and faster until Bill Elliott took the pole for the 1987 Talladega 500 with a speed of over 212 mph.
It was during this race that Bobby Allison had a scary crash where his motor blew, he spun around and his car took flight at 210 mph. Allison’s car would slam into the catchfence, but luckily Allison and the race fans in attendance all lived to talk about it. The restrictor plate was immediately enacted on stock cars at Daytona and Talladega.
Fast forward to now. This week marks the first time that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have taken to a newly repaved Michigan International Speedway, and the result of the repaving is very noticeable. During two Thursday test sessions, numerous drivers broke the 200 mph barrier.
The fastest lap of the day belonged to Tony Stewart at 201.896 mph, and overall drivers were consistently hitting 218 mph heading into the turns at Michigan International Speedway.
“It’s pretty fast – it’s really fast. The center corner speed is fast. It doesn’t feel any different, down the straightaway orwhatever else, your car is handling good. Let me tell you, the start of practice I was a second off and it felt really, really fast. At the end of practice, I was top-10 in speeds and it didn’t feel as fast because I had a good handle on my car – a good balance on the race car. That makes all the difference in the world,” said Clint Bowyer following the test sessions.
Bowyer also talked about how much trouble you’ll be in if you’re car is just a little loose on Sunday, “Let me tell you, when you’re fighting loose conditionsand the thing snaps sideways on you and you’re running 200 mph, it gets your attention pretty quick. You usually don’t make it very many more laps before you come in and ask for an adjustment.”
These speeds are scary fast, and many wonder if NASCAR will step in to slow the cars down before this weekend’s events. According to NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton, the sanctioning body will not slap restrictor plates under the hoods of the cars, and he expects speeds to slow naturally when more rubber is laid down on the track.
“With the cool temperatures (in the 60s) and the track conditions, we’re pretty sure these are the fastest speeds we are going to see at this track,” said Pemberton. “Once the track takes on more rubber and the temperatures go up (temperatures are expected to approach the 90-degree mark this weekend), you should see the speeds go down some.”
If things don’t slow down though, guys like Greg Biffle will be very concerned.
“We have to walk that fine line of not killing people and creating excitement. I think the biggest thing is that when people say that it is too fast or whatever … that it makes it hard to race other cars at that speed. You look at the places we go, the absolute fastest, and sometimes those aren’t the best races to watch. Sometimes the tracks that are a little bit slower put on a little better side-by-side action and more bumping and grinding. I promise you that you aren’t going to bump somebody at 218 mph, I promise you that. It isn’t going to happen,” said Biffle.
I understand where Biffle is coming from, but honestly with all of the safety innovations we have seen in recent years I think the time is now to let the drivers and teams mix it up to see who truly is the fastest of the fast, and there were plenty of fast cars in Michigan on Thursday. Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. all joined Tony Stewart as drivers who cracked the 200mph barrier in testing at Michigan. Expect fast and furious racing on Sunday.
– Toby Christie is the lead Motorsports writer for Sicknissified.com, Co-Host of The Final Lap Weekly, and he can be reached via Twitter. Tweet him @Tobalical