Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 Pure Michigan 400 Practice Notes: Gordon puts on a weekend show of speed

Gordon and Harvick are the drivers to beat on Sunday at Michigan
A day after setting the track record in qualifying, Jeff Gordon came back just as strong on Saturday during final practices at Michigan International Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. Between the two days, no one was collectively as good and he made it clear with his efforts that he’s the driver to beat.

In the early session, Gordon was third fastest -- one of 33 drivers to record a lap at over 200 mph. In the final session, Gordon had the fastest lap and was the only driver to top 200 mph under much warmer conditions.

Of all the practice sessions, the final one is the most telling because the time of the day ran will be most similar to when the green flag drops Sunday. On Friday, the main concern for the team is qualifying, so most of the fast laps run are with intent of only running one or two consecutive laps. Saturday’s times get you closer to race day conditions because they’re all in race trim and looking for the best set-up over what will be long green flag runs. By the time they run the final practice, the cream typically rises to the top.

That driver is Gordon. Beyond all his fast laps on Saturday, the thing that stands out the most how good the No. 24 team has that car on the long runs during the final session. Among the 17 drivers that ran 10-consecutive laps or more, Gordon had the best lap average, slightly better than Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Even though Gordon hasn’t won at Michigan since 2001, the overall performance by Hendrick Motorsports during the first Michigan race on June 16 is an indicator that Gordon already was one of the drivers to beat this week. Gordon finished sixth in that race among the four HMS drivers that finished seventh or better.

Gordon also has a good luck charm going for him this week. The chassis he’s using won at the Brickyard in July, and while the two tracks don’t necessarily correlate well other than needing lots of horsepower to power down the straights, a driver in a winning ride seems to always give the team a little extra boost of confidence.

Kevin Harvick looked to be the second best among all drivers. He’s almost as good as Gordon and comes in with three straight second-place finishes at Michigan. In June, Harvick led the most laps. In 2010, he won his only race at Michigan.

The most welcomed surprise with speed on Saturday was Greg Biffle, who finished with the fifth fastest lap. Biffle, a four-time Michigan winner, had struggled in the June race with a 20th-place finish. Car owner Jack Roush has won a track record 13 times on his home track.

The most disappointing practices of all came from Jimmie Johnson. Apparently the winning set-up from June didn’t translate over as crew chief Chad Knaus couldn’t find any speed Friday -- 39th in practice and 30th in qualifying. They came out better on Saturday with race set-ups, but didn’t get into the stratosphere of Gordon or of where they were in June's final practices.

The best mid-to-longshot range driver would be Kyle Larson. We’ve said this a few times this season ‘he’s going to win soon’, but Sunday could really be his day. His average speeds are up there with the best, he’s been fast all season and he’s using one of the Hendrick Chevy engines, just Gordon is. He was eighth in June, one of seven Chevy drivers to finish in the top-eight.

The only non-Chevy to crash the Michigan June party was Michigan native Brad Keselowski who appears to be the best of the Ford chances to win Sunday along with Joey Logano and Biffle.

A noticeable omission from out top-10 this week is a driver from Joe Gibbs Racing. This has been a good track over the years for JGR because they’ve had horsepower in the past, but not so much anymore which is a bad future sign as the Chase nears.

Read More Here........Final Driver Ratings

No comments: