Friday, August 17, 2012

2012 Pure Michigan 400 Practice Notes: Biffle Tops 200 mph, Fastest in Both Saturday Sessions

Greg Biffle fastest in both Saturday practice sessions at Michigan (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

After being the only driver to top 200 mph in Saturday’s early practice session at Michigan International Speedway, Greg Biffle followed it up by being fastest in the final session. Biffle’s fast lap of 198.879 came in the late stages of the 55-minute session and makes him a serious contender to win Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, which would be the third win of his career on the 2-mile track.

Jimmie Johnson had to make an engine change during Saturday’s early session. The bad news for the No. 48 team is that they’ll have to start from the rear in Sunday’s race. The bad news for the rest of the field is that the back-up engine is just as fast as the one they removed. Johnson was fastest in Friday’s practice. With the new engine, they were second fastest (198.222) in the final session.

Johnson has never won at Michigan, one of five tracks on the circuit that have that claim. The deepest start position any driver has won with at Michigan was Mark Martin in 2009, starting 32nd. If any driver can best that, Johnson would certainly be a the top of a short list.

Joey Logano was third fastest during the final session with a lap of 197.960 mph, which should give the No. 20 team some hope in their attempt to make the Chase. A second win on the season with three races remaining until the Chase field is set would make them a favorite to get in.

Matt Kenseth had the fourth-fastest lap and will be looking for his third win at Michigan. He’s one of only two current drivers to average better than a 10th-place finish (9.1) at Michigan. His teammate, Carl Edwards, is the other.

Mark Martin was fifth fastest (197.488) and outside of Biffle, has had the best combined practices between the Friday and Saturday sessions. Martin has produced speeds in the top-5 during all three sessions.

Johnson had the fastest average speeds, followed by Martin, Kasey Kahne and Biffle. Only six drivers topped an average of 195 mph with Martin’s MWR teammates being the other two.

Only two drivers, Kahne and Martin, ran 10-consecutive laps or more.

Some notables outside the top-5 single lap speeds: Tony Stewart (7th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th), Jeff Gordon (19th) and Michigan native Brad Keselowski (22nd).

For Junior, he may not be in as good of shape as previously anticipated because of wrecking his car in practice. The car he wrecked was a good one, the car that won in June. He will have to start from the rear of the field with Johnson. His back-up finished third at Fontana and 17th at Darlington earlier this year.

Carl Edwards was eight fastest, but looks like he’ll be almost as good as his teammates based on his first two practices. Two-time Michigan winner Denny Hamlin was ninth fastest.

Kyle Busch did not participate in the final session so he could make it to Montreal for the Nationwide series race. David Reutimann sat in for Busch and finished with a very uninspiring 41st fastest lap.

Top-5 Michigan Practice 3 (Final) Speeds:
1) Greg Biffle 198.879 mph
2) Jimmie Johnson 198.222
3) Joey Logano 197.960
4) Matt Kenseth 197.916
5) Mark Martin 197.488

Michigan Practice 3 Speeds 

Biffle Tops 200 mph in Early Saturday Session

By Micah Roberts

Two-time Michigan winner Greg Biffle was fastest in Saturday’s early practice session at Michigan International Speedway. Biffle’s lap of 200.362 mph made him the only driver between the two weekend practices run thus far to top 200 mph. Biffle was also fastest in the June Michigan race during practices topping 204 mph.

Biffle doing well shouldn’t come as a surprise considering who he drives for and the car he’s using this week. Jack Roush has won 11 races at Michigan as a car owner, a track considered the Roush-Fenway home track. Biffle finished fourth in the June race and is using his third-place Brickyard car this week.

Kasey Kahne was second fastest in Friday’s practice and followed that up with repeat as the second fastest (198.588) Saturday morning's 55-minute session. Kahne has one win at Michigan (2006) over his career.

Martin is a five-time Michigan winner (Getty)
Carl Edwards finished third fastest (198.555) and has the look of being a driver that should be very competitive in Sunday's race based on his Friday and Saturday sessions. Edwards hasn’t been able to find speed during practices on the big tracks that require lots of horsepower, but they look like they’re onto something this weekend.

Edwards has the best career average finish at Michigan (8.4) and should find comfort in the fact that he’s using his Las Vegas chassis, which finished fifth, one of only two top-5 finishes on the season for the No. 99 team. He has two wins at Michigan, the last coming in 2008.

Edwards may not be doing a flip after the race, but this may be his best chance of the season to at least practice his victory celebration a little bit. You’d think he might be a little rusty considering his last Cup flip came at Las Vegas last season.

Mark Martin has five wins at Michigan and will be starting from the pole for the fourth time this season. He came in with the fourth fastest lap (198.178) of the session, continuing what great June test and practice sessions.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the fifth fastest lap showing that Friday’s practice session, where he finished 22nd, means very little to his overall equation this week. Junior is using his winning car from June and his last two wins -- and only two with Hendrick Motorsports -- have come at Michigan.

Marcos Ambrose ran the most laps of the session (36), but was only able to capture the 20th fastest lap. Martin, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer all ran 35 laps.

Busch led a group of five drivers that ran 10-consecutive laps or more with the fastest average which might be a sign he may be able to repeat his winning fall performance from last season. The timing couldn’t better for Busch who is outside looking in at the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson changed an engine during the session and will have to start Sunday's race from the rear.

"The guys saw something in warm up this morning and we were trying to sort through it before practice started," Johnson told ESPN this morning. "They took a deeper look at things right before practice started and decided to change it. We didn't want to oil the track or create an issue and crash our car."

Top-5 Michigan Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Greg Biffle 200.362 mph
2) Kasey Kahne 198.588
3) Carl Edwards 198.555
4) Mark Martin 198.178
5) Dale Earnhardt Jr 198.134

Michigan Practice 2 Speeds

Johnson Fastest in First Michigan Practice Session 

By Micah Roberts

Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap in Friday’s first practice session in preparation for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Johnson’s fast lap of 197.450 mph in qualifying trim was on the final of his 14 laps run, which was more than 7 mph slower than the top speed obtained by Greg Biffle during practice before June’s Michigan race.

Jimmie Johnson has never won at Michigan, one of only five tracks (Getty)
Michigan is one of five tracks on the circuit Johnson has never won at and will be using his fifth-place chassis from the June race. This same car is also the one that Johnson used to win the All-Star race at Charlotte in May.

Johnson’s teammate, Kasey Kahne, had the second fastest lap (196.861) on the final of his 19 laps run. Kahne, who won at Michigan in 2006, was surprisingly the last of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers to finish in the top-15 during practice. Dale Earnhardt Jr, who ended a 144-race winless streak at Michigan in June, was 22nd fastest during the 90-minute session and Jeff Gordon was 18th.

Mark Martin was one of the stars from the testing and practices held before June’s race and ended up third fastest (196.786) in Fridays session. Kevin Harvick was fourth fastest followed by Martin Truex Jr..

Earnhardt ran the most laps of the session (22) followed by Tony Stewart (21). Both Stewart and Earnhardt are using the same cars from the first Michigan race.

Johnson had the top average speed and no driver ran 10-consecutive laps or more. The average speeds will be of more use in determining who looks the best during Saturday’s final two practice session with all drivers running in race trim throughout.

Qualifying is scheduled for Friday at 4:10 p.m. ET.

Top-5 Michigan Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Jimmie Johnson 197.450 mph
2) Kasey Kahne 196.861
3) Mark Martin 196.786
4) Kevin Harvick 196.705
5) Martin Truex Jr 196.448

Michigan Practice 1 Speeds

Starting Lineup - Martin on the Pole

Post-Qualifying Driver Quotes

CARL EDWARDS ON HIS LAP - QUALIFIED 2ND: “It was a good lap. I am surprised how fast Mark’s (Martin) lap was. Ours was good so Mark really stepped it up. That was a great run for him. All the folks from West Coast Customs are here and we wanted to get the pole for them really bad. Mark pulled one our there. He was excited when he came in. I got to talk to him and he was wound up. I think you guys will have fun when he gets in here. I believe a good starting spot is key here. I think that it will go long green flag runs and if the speeds are as high as they seem to be – at least for the first part of the race it could be pretty tough to pass, so this could be big for us.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON ON HIS LAP - QUALIFIED 3RD: “We didn’t come back for the tire test, we were road-course testing that week, and we took to the track right away and got going. So, it is different, but I can’t say it’s affected us a lot over today’s practice session. We were in qualifying trim the whole time. So, in race trim we have a few more things to sort out, but the car’s been quick, it’s been great. Chad and the guys have worked really hard to give me great Lowe’s Chevrolets week-in and week-out, and we’ve got another one here this weekend.”

MATT KENSETH ON HIS LAP - QUALIFIED 4TH: “I did the first lap and thought it was good but I thought maybe I could do a little better the second lap. I should have done it a little different though I guess.The car is really good and we drew a cloud, which was good. Hopefully the sun will come back out. I don’t know how fast the rest of these guys will go. That was a good lap though. I had a good lap. My car drove really good but I think if I did it again I could maybe run a half-tenth faster. All the fast guys are behind us still though.”

TONY STEWART ON HIS LAP - QUALIFIED 14TH: “We were a little bit too loose. We got it better from where we were in practice, but we still need to get it tightened up. We’ll use all of Saturday’s practice to get the Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy right for Sunday.”

DALE EARNHARDT JR. ON HIS LAP - QUALIFIED 22ND: “Well, we ran a few laps in race trim and the car felt pretty good, but we had a terrible practice as far as qualifying trim goes, so that’s a bit of an improvement. But, obviously, the track’s got a bit more speed than that in it. Matt put down a really good lap, and hopefully that’s as good as it gets.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr spun off of turn two in the final practice session and will have to use a back-up car (Getty) 

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