|Dale Jr looks like he might have all the tools needed to win Sunday (Getty)|
Tony Stewart laid down a fast lap of 201.896 mph in the final test session at Michigan International Speedway on Thursday. Stewart captured the top speed in the final seconds of the three hour session. Stewart’s lap was also fastest on the day.
During six combined test hours on the day, eight drivers topped 200 mph on the repaved surface.
Greg Biffle put down what was the fastest lap (201.556 mph) in the final minute until Stewart topped it. A Roush-Fenway driver hasn't won at Michigan in the past six races, which is major news because Jack Roush is tied for the track record with 11 wins. Biffle's team was the star among all Fords.
“Every lap is like a qualifying lap and you are holding your breath," said Biffle.
“It’s really, really fast here,” Biffle continued. “The one thing that I have liked seeing is that the track is pretty wide. The groove is all the way up in the middle of the second groove and that is certainly going to help racing around here at those speeds because it gives us some options.”
Stewart and Biffle were fast through all stages of the practice, but the best sign of the day may be that Dale Eanhardt Jr. was fast through all six hours of testing.
Earnhardt Jr had the fifth fastest lap (200.658), and also had taken over the top speeds on several different occasions. Junior’s last win came 144 races ago at Michigan on Fathers Day.
“I feel like we’re getting really close," Earnhardt said following the test regarding his winless streak. "We’ve been really competing well and have been competitive every week and at every track. And that’s feels really good to say.
"The team is excited. We ran great last week. We had a strong car. So, the team is really excited. We’re just kind of going to each race track every weekend and seeing what kind of car we can put out on the starting grid on Sunday. I feel like if we keep going, we’re going to win some races. We’ve just got to keep working.”
In his first Cup action since being suspended, Kurt Busch showed some speed in the final half-hour of testing and put up a lap (201.174) that was good enough to be third fastest after Biffle and Stewart topped it.
Kevin Harvick was fourth fastest continuing great day of testing for him. In the earlier session Harvick had the second best times.
All 43 drivers testing in the final session were faster than the track record (194.232) set by Ryan Newman in 2005.
Mark Martin, who was fastest in the first session, ran the most laps (77) and finished with the 11th best time. While running those 77 laps, Martin averaged a very strong average of 196.947 mph. The top average speed among drivers running at least 30 laps was Kurt Busch at 197.240. However, Busch ran only 32 laps, an amount that Martin more than doubled.
As for Jimmie Johnson, he finished the final session with the 21st fastest lap. Johnson was 10th fastest in the earlier session. Take this with a grain of salt. Johnson wasn’t impressive in Pocono testing last week and appeared to have the best car on the track on race day.
The only negative for Johnson rests with his past history at Michigan where he is 0-of-20. To turn that negative into a positive, there is a new surface, it’s very fast, and not many drivers have been faster than Johnson over the last five weeks on any track.
One oddity I have with Johnson at Michigan is that he isn’t alone with the track being Kryptonite to him being Superman. Between Johnson, Stewart and Jeff Gordon, they have 12 NASCAR Championships between them, yet have combined to win only three Michigan races. That’s twice a year visiting Michigan throughout each of their careers vs. only one title won per year.
It should be interesting to see how all this test data relates to race day, or even Friday practices.
Top-5 Michigan Practice Speeds (Afternoon):
1) Tony Stewart 201.896 mph
2) Greg Biffle 201.556
3) Kurt Busch 201.174
4) Kevin Harvick 200.697
5) Dale Earnhardt Jr 200.658
More Michigan Testing Notes from the Day - Crespi
Martin Fastest, Again, In First Michigan Test Session
By Micah Roberts
Mark Martin was the overall star in testing and practice sessions on Pocono Raceway’s newly surfaced track last week and he was at it again Thursday on Michigan’s new pavement in the early test session with a fast lap of 201.089 mph. Four drivers topped the 200 mph barrier and 39 drivers beat the track record (194.232) set by Ryan Newman in 2005.
Needless to say, Michigan is Faster than it's ever been
2010 Michigan winner Kevin Harvick finished with the second fastest lap (200.999) followed by Martin Truex Jr (200.306), Dale Earnhardt Jr (2000.306) and Tony Stewart (199.856).
|Carl Edwards must be on a testing plan again...23 cars faster Getty)|
Just like last week at Pocono, the Fords appear to be a bit slower than the Chevy’s and Toyota’s. Greg Biffle had the best lap of the bunch -- good enough for ninth best, while Matt Kenseth was 17th fastest with the Petty drivers and Carl Edwards finishing 22nd, 23rd and 24th, respectively.
Jeff Gordon ran the most laps (49) of the three hour session followed by Michigan native Brad Keselowski (47) and Earnhardt Jr (46). Only five drivers ran 10 consecutive laps or more with Kyle Busch leading that category. Busch also had the sixth fastest single lap (199.590).
It was estimated last week by a few of the commentators that half the field used their back-up chassis for the testing and then used their primary car for the practices, qualifying and the race. So without full knowledge of what teams strategically did today, it’s hard to gauge how much we can use this test session in regards to it translating over to Sunday’s race.
However, the teams that have speed here are likely to be fast on race day. They have something clicking right with their engine and set-up that shouldn't be too tough to recreate onto another chassis.
The one driver that confirmed through Twitter that he was using a back-up in the testing was Keselowski.
A driver that gave hope to the millions in his Kingdom is Earnhardt Jr, who was one of the four top to 200 mph. With Sunday being Father’s Day and Michigan being the last place he won at 144 races ago, there was a lot of hope and excitement coming into this weekend that Junior could end his winless streak. After the test session, his legion of fans can really get excited now for good cause and not just loyalty. He is fast and should be one of the drivers to beat on Sunday.
The teams will have their final test session this afternoon from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm (ET) before returning on Friday for their two regular practice sessions.
Top-5 Michigan Test Speeds (Early):
1) Mark Martin 201.089
2) Kevin Harvick 200.999
3) Martin Truex Jr. 200.306
4) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200.206
5) Tony Stewart 199.856
Michigan Test Session Speeds (Early)
Afternoon Michigan Test Speeds
Driver Testing Comments via Twitter
Joey Logano: Woo this place has some speed and a ton of grip. Just trying to get our @HomeDepotRacing car turning a little better
Clint Bowyer: Got the sails out today, averaging 200 is pretty fast for this Kansas ass!
Jimmie Johnson: Ride along iPhone style at the resurfaced @MISpeedway. 217 mph in race trim at the end of the front stretch. #hauling twitvid.com/B0EZD
Darrell Waltrip: it's hard to tell a big difference in cars going 180, 190, but when they go over 200mph they enter into another world, sight and sound
Following Session 2:
Jeff Gordon: Just finished up testing @MISpeedway. Smooth and fast as expected. 220mph top speed in Q run!
Landon Cassill: No Q runs for us this afternoon, looks like a handful of guys did. We also had some tire issues, saw some blistering.