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Greg Biffle! Wow, a sizzling 204 mph at Michigan...but tires still blistering

Greg Biffle! Wow, a sizzling 204 mph at Michigan...but tires still blistering

The fastest man in NASCAR: Greg Biffle. But still worried (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.

   Greg Biffle, who was first out of the box Thursday to express concerns about the sizzling speeds here on the new Michigan International Speedway asphalt, only to be chastised by some rivals sporting more bravado, ripped off a record breaking lap at 204.708 mph on a very hot Friday afternoon to take the speed buzz here to red-line levels.

   Biffle said his top straightaway speed in that run was about 220 mph.

   And Biffle -- despite major concern about blistered tires -- predicted Saturday's Michigan 400 pole would top 206 mph.

   That is simply stunning.

    The word Thursday from NASCAR was that speeds would slow down as the week went on, that hot weather and the track rubbering in would work to slow speeds.


   "It caught me off guard how fast the track is now and how much grip it's got," Biffle said. "Maybe the heat is actually providing some of that grip."

   However, while Biffle was ripping off his runs, Martin Truex Jr. was finding the other big story here -- his tires were blistering badly. Right-rears are now an issue as much as left-fronts.

   "I thought the speeds would slow down by now," Biffle said. Indeed NASCAR officials had said they expected that too.

   Now though Biffle is predicting a race pace of well over 200 mph


   Martin Truex Jr. -- blistered tires, and he's not alone. Teammate Mark Martin has complained too. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Too fast?
   Well, never have so many NASCAR drivers raced as fast as they're racing here.
   And the magic number everybody is talking about is 218.
   Like 218 mph, at the fastest part of the straights. Maybe even 220.
   Much faster than anyone anticipated.
   So fast that even some of Goodyear's toughest tires aren't quite tough enough.
   The right-sides – that Talladega-Vegas tire – is holding up well, fortunately. But the new left-sides aren't wearing quite fast enough to shed enough heat to keep from blistering.
    Drivers, crews, and NASCAR officials are all hoping the race pace in Sunday's Michigan 400 slows down enough to keep everything under control. That's the way it played out last weekend at Pocono.
    However it hasn't played out that way so far. Teams are putting a lot of rubber on the track,  air temperatures are up to 88 degrees, and Friday afternoon,  during the final round of Sprint Cup practice before the 400 itself,  drivers bumped top speeds up to 202 mph. At least 14 drivers have topped 200 mph in practice so far.


   NASCAR president Mike Helton: Is it time for Plan B? Or just hope things work out in Sunday's 400? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Now, since this is an 'impound' race, there will be no more practice before the 400. Qualifying is set for 1 p.m. ET Saturday.

   Sunday, Biffle said, "You could see higher straightaway speeds in a pack drafting."

    This is all uncharted territory. NASCAR has never had this many cars running this fast on a two-mile track.  

    Too fast?
    Jeff Gordon says "it's right there on the edge of being too fast.
    "It's very, very fast.
     "But 'too fast' for what? For safety? We'll find out this weekend; only time will tell.
     "We're out there running single-car runs...nobody has lost control or had any problem or failure. So at this point we're all good.
    "But until that happens, we won't really know.
     "I'm more concerned with what kind of racing we're going to put on than I am with safety right now. It's going to be tougher to pass than last weekend.
    "I can promise you you're not going to want to go in there side-by-side at 218 mph."


   Jimmie Johnson (R), with Kevin Harvick: both blistering tires (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Blistering tires?
     Some drivers say they're not seeing problems. Carl Edwards even insisted he wasn't even aware there was an issue.
     Tony Stewart, who has turned the quickest laps, says he's not worried about tires here.  And he insists the speeds aren't that big a deal for him. Of course he's done 247 mph in an Indy-car at the Speedway.
    "It's fast for stock cars... but the good thing is -- I don't know if it is the asphalt mix or the tire --- but when we ran Phoenix and Pocono  and this week, it doesn't seem like it did when they redid Vegas years ago, where you've got a lot of grip and then when you lose it you lose all of it. 
     "The cars are stable, even though we are running quick lap times.
     "It's kind of surprising, I think a lot of that has to do with the tire Goodyear brought."


   Goodyear's Greg Stucker: cool under pressure....and with these blistered tires at Michigan, he's got some pressure to deal with (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     Mark Martin and Stewart could be the two to beat in Saturday pole runs. A big question may be how many drivers break 200 mph. NASCAR hasn't had a 200-mph qualifying lap since 1987.
     Gordon says "qualifying is going to be extremely fast. And you're going to need to be as close to flat-out as we'll ever come to this place.
     "It's fun to drive, but it's a little hair-raising when you realize how fast you're going.
    "It's pretty cool we're going that fast.
     "The cars feel good; they're certainly stuck to the track.
     "But there's no doubt in the back of our minds you don't want anything to go wrong at that speed."

     Too fast?
     NASCAR does have some plates it could hand out. And ARCA teams here are running restrictor plates on their engines.
     Gordon doesn't like that idea:  "What's the plate talk? We're not doing 220 through the corner.
     "And while 220 (at the fastest part of this track) is definitely fast, I think by Sunday that pace is going to drop.
      "It's going to be hot; there's going to be more rubber on the track. Just like we saw at Pocono.
      "The pace is going to be down enough where I think we're going to be fine with the speeds."



   Denny Hamlin rolls out to the track Friday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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