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Michigan Paves The Way In Big Weekend Of Racing

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 14 2012

The new surface at Michigan International Speedway is expected to be fast. Plate fast? (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The big stories in the big events in pro racing this weekend will be:

Sprint Cup – Another week, another race at a newly paved race track. This week, it’s Michigan International Speedway near Brooklyn.

As with Pocono, site of last weekend’s race, Michigan was fast before the repave. With a smoother surface, the already-spacious MIS 2-mile oval should be, well, insane.

Regan Smith, driver of the Furniture Row Chevrolet, said, “What I do know is that the track is going to be faster – that’s a given. How much faster is hard to tell. The weather will have a lot to say about what kind of speeds we’ll produce over the weekend. We went through the same process last week in Pocono with its repaved track and I think we all did a good job adapting to the new conditions. I anticipate the same at MIS.”

Teams tested MIS Thursday and let fly with interesting reports.

Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer said the track “is pretty fast, it’s really fast.” Especially in the middle of the corners.

Asked to slow things down, Bowyer used the dreaded “R” and “P” words.

“Maybe NASCAR has some options, but certainly I haven’t heard anything,” he said. “I don’t know what a restrictor plate race would be like at a track like this. It would be almost interesting to see. I think no

There's a new surface in town. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

matter what we do, I think we’re going to keep it the same. It’s just going to be interesting to see.

“This is the first time a track this size has been repaved like this since I’ve been in the sport. It’s amazing how much difference it’s made. Just the center corner speed is so much greater than it used to be. It’s going to be interesting to see how we can race around cars and around each other and put on a show.”

For tire freaks, Goodyear issued the following notes for MIS: “Due to the track re-surfacing, Goodyear has brought a new tire combination to Michigan this week . . . teams in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series did run this right-side tire code (D-4528) at Las Vegas earlier this season . . . this tire set-up came out of a Goodyear test at Michigan on April 3-4 . . . teams and drivers participating in that test were No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge with Brad Keselowski, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford with Matt Kenseth, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Kyle Busch, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Jeff Gordon and No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet with Juan Pablo Montoya. . . . compared to what was run at Michigan last year, there are both compound and construction changes on both the left- and right-side tires . . . as on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run inner liners on all four tire positions at Michigan . . . air pressure in those inner liners should be 12-25 psi greater than that of the outer tire.”

Got it?

INDYCAR – The series heads to Milwaukee to race at the venerable Milwaukee Mile.

The track in West Allis is a classic. As far as racing heritage goes, it’s topped only by Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For decades, it hosted the Indycars the week after the Indy 500. Racing began there at about the same time as Indy, 1909. Still often referred to as State Fair Park by the locals, it is the Wrigley Field of auto racing as it is nestled into an old residential neighborhood.

The track is wide and flat and a traditional favorite of Indycar drivers. It has gone through tough times in

The Milwaukee Mile has a long history of hosting Indycar races. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

recent years as a succession of owners have tried and failed to make a go of the place. This year, Michael Andretti has stepped up to promote the race and an accompanying festival.

“I’m a fan of racing history,” driver/owner Ed Carpenter said. “That’s why I love racing at the Mile. It’s older than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and you can feel the past when you’re there. It’s always fun to go to places like that.

“You look at the past winners at Milwaukee and know it has so much history. Guys likes A.J. (Foyt), Mario (Andretti), Rick (Mears), the Unsers (Bobby, Al and Al Jr.) and others including Michael (Andretti). Michael and his promotions company have done a great job of reviving the race, and I think the new (car) package will perform well there. Hopefully we can start winning this weekend.”

Interestingly, the state of Wisconsin is home to the best road circuit in North America (Road America, not open to debate) and the best short oval (the Milwaukee Mile, we will allow a bit of debate here).

SPORTS CARS – Le Mans. Le Biggie. The 24 Hour race is one of those international sporting events which is so much more than a sporting event.

Gone this year is the Audi vs. Peugeot scuffle which has dominated headlines at Le Circuit over the last decade. Peugeot has pulled out of sports car racing because of economic woes. Stepping up to challenge in the LMP1 class is Toyota.

Arrived this year is a fleet of ecologically friendly machines as car makers put hybrid technology on display.

Playing a starring role this year will be the Nissan-powered DeltaWing car which was created by

The revolutionary DeltaWing hits Le Mans this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Highcroft Racing)

American Don Panoz and his company. The car weighs about half as much as the other Prototypes and has about half the power. It is expected to be much easier on tires and fuel.

The DeltaWing showed some speed in early qualifying this week. With German Michael Krumm at the wheel, the car had already improved on its earlier practice session time to stop the clocks at 3 minutes, 42.612 seconds. Krumm was confident of breaking into the “30s” until the car’s on-board fire extinguisher went off after striking a kerb at Tertre Rouge – simultaneously shutting down the car’s electrical system.

DeltaWing designer and concept originator Ben Bowlby said, “It has been an evening of highs and lows. On one hand it was great to see the looks on the driver’s faces grinning from ear to ear when they got out the car and have them tell you ‘this car is absolutely awesome, but it is another thing to have the master switch trigger when the fire extinguisher goes off accidentally when you clip a kerb.

“It is a terrible shame because I think we could have ended up at the top of the LMP2 class which is exactly where we are meant to be.

“It is very gratifying that the car has that type of performance and I know the team will all pull together and tomorrow we’ll get the guys qualified.

“Whether it is wet or dry we’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll be ready for the race.”

NHRA – The series heads to Thunder Valley in Bristol, Tenn.

The story of the weekend will be the story of the year – Steve Torrence and his little-guy Top Fuel team.

They have shown the big teams of Don Schumacher Racing, Al-Anabi Racing and Morgan Lucas Racing how to win on the cheap. Torrence’s team, which is in its first full season of NHRA competition, has two victories already.

In nine 2012 events, the one-car team – which won at Englishtown and Atlanta – has been to two

Steve Torrence flashes his very first Top Fuel Wally after winning in Atlanta.

semifinals; been in the top half of the starting line-up seven times, including one low qualifier, and had three consecutive second-place starts.

The effort has accumulated 644 series points for Torrence, good enough for the fifth spot and puts him 27 points behind third-place Antron Brown with seven races remaining before the Countdown to 1 six-race title showdown.

“Things are going really well for the Capco team,” Torrence said. “Richard Hogan (his crew chief) has the car running awesome. Hopefully things will continue to go along like they are. We want to keep the momentum going.

“We are focusing on Bristol. I’ve only raced a Top Fuel car there once, in 2010, and that was with another team. It’s a good track. We know the weather will be hot, but Richard has a good handle on the hot-weather tune-ups. I am really excited about the race.”

Then there is Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson. He and his KB Racing crew are looking to build on the successful debut of their new Chevrolet Camaro. Despite reaching the winner’s circle in its inaugural race, the current Pro Stock championship points leader is quick to point out that they are still familiarizing themselves with their new mount.

“Although we certainly gave our Summit Racing Camaro a tremendous debut in Englishtown, I think we can make it run even better,” said Anderson. “For example, we never set low elapsed time. It showed us that it wanted to run, and we kept working on it, making gains throughout the weekend, but never fully hit the nail on the head, so there’s still plenty of room left for improvement.

“It’s a very nice car that seems to want to do everything right, but we’re still early in the learning process and even though it’s gone very well so far, we are just scratching the surface of its full potential. Between ourselves, Chevrolet and (chassis builder) Rick Jones, I think we’ve built a good piece, and in Bristol we’ll have two with Jason bringing out his Camaro. Hopefully we can go there, get her closer to what she really wants and run even better than we did in our first race. That’s our goal heading into the weekend.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 14 2012
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