Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver AJ Allmendinger enters this weekend’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway knowing what the major news topic will be. He expects the adjective “fast” to get monumental use from the beginning of Thursday’s 8:00 a.m. test session on throughout Sunday’s 400-mile race.
“Michigan has always been a basic, really fast two-mile oval and with the new repaving it will be much faster,” said Allmendinger, who will be making his 10th career start at MIS in Sunday’s battle. “Just how much greater the speeds we will run? That’s the big question heading there and everyone is curious to find out.
“The qualifying record will fall at Michigan on Saturday; that’s pretty much a given,” Dinger added. “Based on what we saw at Pocono last week, it will be really interesting to see how much the old record is beaten by and how many drivers can do it. Of course everyone will be talking about the high speeds we are taking into the corner.”
The current track record at MIS is 194.232 mph (37.069 seconds), set by Ryan Newman in qualifying for the June 2005 race. Kurt Busch drove the Shell-Pennzoil Dodge to the Coors Light Pole in last June’s race with a one-lap speed of 188.699 mph (38.156 seconds).
Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, the NASCAR premier series also attacked a brand new racing surface. Joey Logano established the new track qualifying record there of 179.598 mph (50.112 seconds). That obliterated the old record of 172.533 mph (52.164 seconds) that dated back to 2004. The top-36 qualifiers broke the old track record in last Saturday’s session.
Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup Champion, was among the five drivers participating in the April tire testing at MIS for Goodyear. When pressed for his reaction on the speeds the cars were running, he responded, “Probably, I would say fast to too fast.”
So how fast is “too fast?”
“I don’t know…I’m not driving,” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge crew chief Todd Gordon answered with a chuckle. “But seriously, as far as what I am hearing for the top speeds into the corner at Michigan…215 (mph)…some swore they saw 219 (mph) during the tire test there.
“Our team did not participate in the tire test, but our teammates did,” Gordon said of Brad Keselowski and his Paul Wolfe-led Miller Lite Dodge Team (the Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya teams also participated). “We’ve discussed it a lot with them and the consensus is it’s going to be really fast. I read where Montoya said he had hit 238 at Michigan during his open-wheel days and that at times during the test, his stock car felt faster.”
Gordon certainly wasn’t too shocked by the high speeds seen during the tire test and expected to be seen again this week on the newly repaved 2.0-mile moderate-banked D-shaped race track.
“With the new surface, it’s to be expected,” said Gordon. “After all, I saw 209 (mph) at Pocono going into Turn 1. That’s coming off the longest straightaway we have and going into a tight low-banked turn. I don’t know if that might be even more demanding than taking the higher speeds into the turns at Michigan. The bottom line is that NASCAR officials have had no comment about the expected high speeds or any plans to slow the cars down.
“The faster speeds are a foregone conclusion,” Gordon added. “What impact that has on the racing there is yet to be seen. Every time we race at Michigan, you have to consider that fuel mileage may likely figure into the equation.”
Unlike at Pocono last week where the team’s plan going in was to test one car (the “PRS-814”) and race another (the “PRS-819” – and changed late Thursday afternoon to actually race the test car – the plan is different for Michigan.
“We’re preparing to utilize the ‘821’ there in Thursday’s testing and use it for the remainder of the weekend,” Gordon said.
In nine career Sprint Cup starts at Michigan, Allmendinger is still looking for his first career top-10 there. He has been running at the finish in all nine of the races and finished on the lead lap six times. He has completed 96.7 percent of possible laps (1,746 of 1,806). Overall, Dinger has a 25.7 average start and 21.2 average finish at Michigan.
As crew chief Gordon pointed out, Allmendinger and crew are scheduled to be racing their “PRS-821” Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger in this weekend’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan. This chassis has been raced only once; during the April Samsung Mobile 500 weekend at Texas Motor speedway. Dinger started 12th and finished 15th in that battle on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth oval.