Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sprint Cup 2012: Race 15: 200!!!

200 MPH!!! It’s not an illusion, but take a look now because chances are no one will see this again for a long time, the top NINETEEN qualifiers for tomorrow’s Quicken Loans 400 at the Michigan International Speedway all had lap times over 200 mph with Marcos Ambrose topping the leader board at 203.241. 200 mph has always been considered a dangerous threshold in NASCAR racing for the aerodynamic properties that start to develop at such a high speed keeping cars from getting airborne in touchy situations on the track as had been seen to tragic results at Talladega and Daytona hastening the era of restrictor plate racing at those tracks and a completely different style of racing.

What NASCAR will decide to do will be influenced by tomorrow’s races. Certainly, there will be discussion whether restrictor plates should be implemented at Michigan; however, before taking such a drastic step that could be overkill at the two mile oval, perhaps there are some engineering tweaks working with aerodynamics and down force that might do the trick if necessary. Long time fans will not forget that driver Ernie Irvan almost lost his life in a horrible practice accident and Michigan, and Bobby Allison’s younger son, Clifford, was killed in a practice mishap a year earlier in what was then the Busch series. The myriad of safety improvements after Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona in 2001 has not addressed potential 200 mph racing. In recent years, competition has only flirted with 200 mph hitting that speed on some straight-aways like Texas and Atlanta.

Repaved race tracks introduce many new variables and the predictions based on past performance are tossed away. Surely, last week’s Pocono competition benefitted tremendously from the new surface and remembering the recent calamity that befell Kasey Kahne and Elliot Sadler, the safety improvements are most welcomed.  However, given the Pennsylvania track’s long straight-aways, many were looking ahead to this weekend and the possibility of some stunning speeds.

After an early practice, Tony Stewart, a veteran of many forms of racing noted how it seemed the faster the car drove the more he felt a sense of comfort likening it to his experience with Indy Car racing on oval tracks. Certainly, those used to the “beatin’ and bangin’”  style of driving will be at a loss in a brave new world tomorrow afternoon; however, Michigan, traditionally a fuel mileage race, can yield some amazing finishes one of the most memorable being Dale Jarrett’s first victory dueling Davey Allison in the 2nd Michigan event in the summer of 1991. The track would seem to favor competitors including Stewart, the Hendricks and Roush boys, and engineering focused drivers like Ambrose and Ryan Newman.

Two drivers whose seasons have fallen far short of expectations delivered frustrating results in qualifying. Jeff Gordon who is struggling to reach the top 20 much less dream of the chase starts in a mediocre 28th while last year’s championship contender who lost the cup by a whisker, Carl Edwards, attempting to stay close to the top 10 in a still winless season is buried in the back-of-the-field trash heap at 42nd. Kyle Busch who has also had rather undistinguished results in 2012 check in at 34th substantially behind NASCAR’s most hated driver, his brother Kurt, who will have the evil eye trained on him in 26th.

Michigan also takes on special significance as being essentially the home track of the American auto industry with Detroit being the nearest major city. The races at this track are seen as the manufacturer’s cup giving GM, Ford, or Chrysler bragging rights on home turf or now Toyota, whose production cars ironically are the most completely “made in the USA” wheels, the right to be spoiler. Let’s look forward to the added excitement of the many degrees of uncertainty to be resolved tomorrow.

Starting Lineup:
19Marcos AmbroseFord203.241
229Kevin HarvickChevy202.037
316Greg BiffleFord201.816
45Kasey KahneChevy201.720
539Ryan NewmanChevy201.472
617Matt KensethFord201.461
721Trevor BayneFord201.444
814Tony StewartChevy201.370
920Joey LoganoToyota201.247
1048Jimmie JohnsonChevy201.179
1111Denny HamlinToyota200.882
1278Regan SmithChevy200.725
1315Clint BowyerToyota200.686
1455Mark MartinToyota200.591
1543Aric AlmirolaFord200.390
1656Martin Truex Jr.Toyota200.384
1788Dale Earnhardt Jr.Chevy200.317
1827Paul MenardChevy200.133
191Jamie McMurrayChevy200.111
2022AJ AllmendingerDodge199.944
2142Juan Pablo MontoyaChevy199.612
2233Austin Dillon(i)Chevy199.540
2323Scott RiggsChevy199.474
2413Casey MearsFord198.555
252Brad KeselowskiDodge198.473
2651Kurt BuschChevy198.238
2798Michael McDowellFord198.118
2824Jeff GordonChevy197.922
2919Mike BlissToyota197.780
3026Josh Wise #Ford197.699
3147Bobby LabonteToyota197.395
3283Landon CassillToyota197.087
3331Jeff BurtonChevy197.055
3418Kyle BuschToyota197.028
3538David GillilandFord196.829
3636Dave BlaneyChevy196.818
3787Joe NemechekToyota196.770
3834David RaganFord196.673
3993Travis KvapilToyota193.107
4032Ken SchraderFord190.638
4110Tony RainesChevy188.216
4299Carl EdwardsFord0.000
4349JJ YeleyToyota195.117

Failed to Qualify:
4430David StremmeToyota194.295
4574Stacy ComptonChevy193.606

Final observation, having witnessed the Indy Car competition from Milwaukee on ABC, clearly NASCAR would do well to reduce the number of cars allowed to start the race. Once again, the Indy field showed true competitors from top to bottom with every car having something to prove. Certainly the sport could be more exciting where fans get to focus on real racing and not having to pick it out through the clutter. No car should start what the driver doesn't expect to finish. The status quo in NASCAR is such an insulting afront on anyone who appreciates true top tiered professional sports that's supposed to represent the best in its form of competition. Today's Sprint Cup races are like watching baseball with beer-bellied softball hacks playing first base and center field. What's wrong with that picture?  Then without any mention from the broadcasters after the first inning, those positions are standing vacant WAKE UP NASCAR!!!!!

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