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Wow! 218 mph at Michigan...fastest day in NASCAR history...and drivers are, uh, concerned

Wow! 218 mph at Michigan...fastest day in NASCAR history...and drivers are, uh, concerned

When Greg Biffle says he's getting worried about speeds and safety, it's time to listen up (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   It's a brave, new world here, out on this new asphalt.
   And it's telling on everyone's face.
   The emotions run the gamut from major league worries to giddy giggles.
   It's fast, yes, very, very fast....and much faster than even drivers and teams anticipated.
   Like 218 mph into the corners.
   With brand new pavement at two-mile Michigan International Speedway, drivers here Thursday, during a special test session for Sunday's Michigan 400, were running the fastest laps anyone has ever turned in NASCAR history.
    Mark Martin was fastest in the first practice session at 201.089 mph......and to put that in perspective, Bill Elliott, during his record-smashing Talladega runs of the 1980s, was only 170.705 mph here in winning the pole.
    And Kyle Busch won the pole here last August at only 190.345 mph.
    Then the repave......
    Thursday  first round 39 Sprint Cup drivers broke the track record of 194.232 mph, and all were running well over 192 mph.
It's a little bumpier here than it was a Pocono last week, Pocono also repaved, with speeds maybe 215 at the highest points.
    "I was halfway down the backstraightaway a few minutes ago, and looked down and we were 209....and we still had a long way to go," Jeff Burton said.
    "It's definitely fast. But the grip level is up."

    Greg Biffle, one of the fastest men in the sport, and the tour points leader until breaking an engine at Pocono Sunday, is expressing worries about safety here, because of the speed.
    However NASCAR's Robin Pemberton says he's not seeing concerns and he's not considering restrictor plates here to slow things down. Pemberton says Thursday's track conditions were optimum for speeds and "things will calm down" as the week goes on.
   "We still feel pretty good," Pemberton said.
    Of course speed doesn't mean that much....until you hit something or you try to avoid someone.
    Biffle was clearly concerned about the speeds here:
   "I think we are approaching some safety concerns at the speeds we are going. I don’t know that we are quite there yet though.
   "The thing you worry about is if a piece breaks on the car -- an engine breaks at an inopportune time, coming off the corner or getting in the corner.... If a spindle breaks, or component... because 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: The mounts and sway-bar hyme-joints... to make sure they are strong enough.
      "We are certainly 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 speed up."

     Biffle was not the only breathless driver after the first few hours of practice.
    "It definitely is going to gain some attention going 218. A little action, a little controversy...and certainly worthy of talking about," Biffle says.
    "We don't want to kill anybody. We have to walk that fine line of not killing people and creating excitement."

    One problem, Biffle and others point out, "It's hard to race other cars at that speed. When you look at the tracks where we run the fastest, don't usual put on the greatest races.
    "TV dumbs it down sometimes; high speed doesn't always mean exciting racing.
    "I promise you you're not going to bump somebody at 218."
    Another issue, the draft.
   "You'll be drafting on the straights, but not in the corners," Biffle says. "You don't want a car ahead of you going into the corners, because your car needs that 2,000 pounds of downforce on the nose.
"Man, this place is really, really fast. I never would have thought we would be running 35.80.
      "Every lap is like a qualifying lap and you are holding your breath. You make about three, and come in and think about it for a while.
      "I am curious to see when the temperature heats up in the afternoon and the track starts taking rubber -- where the speeds go."

     Where speed went in the heat of the afternoon was up -- Tony Stewart set the fastest lap of the day, averaging 201.896 mph. Biffle himself picked up a cool half-second, to 201.556 mph.

   Remember, that's average speed around this track. Highest speeds at much faster, the 218s that Biffle referred to.

   All totaled, eight men topped 200 mph for the day. And this is just the first day. Friday more practice, then Saturday qualifying.

   So one question -- is this like Atlanta 1997, when the new asphalt there likewise frightened drivers, who finally settled down to running good, but fast and comfortable race pace laps? Or is this something different?

   One common thread through crews in haulers here -- no one seems to know just what is really going on.

   Granted, crews and drivers generally panic whenever something doesn't follow routine. These guys don't like to deal with the unknown.

   Still, there is the distinct, forboding, sense of worry.

   Throw in the threat -- ask Kyle Busch here, he's blown engines at Dover and Pocono now -- of blown engines at these sustained high speeds, and there could be something brewing.

   Another thing is worrisome: some of these drivers appear to be ready to try to out-macho the others. Remember when the late Dale Earnhardt, when rivals were worried after several deaths on the track, rediculed them by saying "put kerosene rags around your ankle so the ants won't climb up and eat that candy ass."

   That philosophy may be brewing again here.

      "The one thing I like is that the track is pretty wide," Biffle says. "The groove is all the way up in the middle of the second groove. That is certainly going to help racing around here at those speeds, because it gives some options."

  Indeed, this track is extremely wide, with perhaps the widest racing surface on the tour.

   However, these 218 mph speeds raise again the spectre that NASCAR is pursuing ever higher speeds, for no real good reason.

    The faster the speeds, the narrower the fast racing groove, of course. And the more aerodynamics plays into everything, particularly the aero-push.

      When teams qualify Saturday afternoon, Biffle says speeds "will be spectacular, I am sure."
       NASCAR's Pemberton says speeds will slow as the week goes on, and Biffle agrees:
        "As this track takes rubber and gets hot and slick, you could easily slow down a second (which would cut speeds from 201 down to 195).
     "Then the speeds are more reasonable."
    Top speeds are higher than at Pocono, though not by much. Pocono, however, is not flat out all the way around, and Biffle says drivers at the moment are very close to flat out all the way around here.
      "Entering the corner (turn one) at 211 at Pocono, we slowed down a tremendous amount," Biffle said.
     "Here you don't slow down a lot. You enter the corner at 218... but we looked at our brake trace and we are using them at 175 psi, which is just barely dragging the brake pedal. That is hardly putting any brakes at all.
     "We aren't putting the brakes on at the end of the straightaway at 218, we are just turning it into the corner. The center corner speed (here) is dramatically higher."
   Does NASCAR really have any options here if officials did decide to cut speeds?
   Restrictor plates, the standard solution, to cut horsepower, would just bunch the field up into a big pack.
     "I would be surprised if I saw a restrictor plate," Biffle says.
    "But I have to admit that if I was on the other side of the game I would be a little bit nervous right now with the 218.
     "It is kind of late in the game (to throw plates on the teams). Who know what it would do? That is a lot of unknowns."



Man up!

Welcome to real racing, Biffie. Junior Johnson & The King always had more car than the the track could handle. The same can be said for the Formula 1 guys in the 80s.

Racing's dangerous. How bad do you want it?


Sorry but the above lap was not official. It did not occur during a race or qualification lap. All sorts of people claim high unofficial speed records. But the official record - the one that counts is Bill Elliott and his Ford Thunderbird that set the record for the fastest recorded time in NASCAR history - 212.809 mph at Talladega Superspeedway. Sorry Chevy, Dodge and Toyota but they now have restrictor plate limitations and no one will ever break Elliott's official record. Congratulations Bill Elliott and Ford.

Bill Elliott set the all-time NASCAR qualifying record, 212.809 mph, at Talladega on April 30, 1987

I doubt we'll see many wrecks. At that speed,

I doubt we'll see many wrecks. At that speed, drivers won't want to be near another car and chance wrecking.

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