Saturday, August 27, 2016

Michigan Sprint Cup Notes following final practices

Tony Stewart last won at Michigan in 2000 and is 30/1 to win Sunday.

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Jimmie Johnson was looking for a glimmer of hope, and he found it in Friday afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Michigan International Speedway.

No, Johnson didn’t win the pole for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN). That distinction went to Joey Logano. But Johnson ran second in the knockout session, and what’s more important, the six-time champion and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates outshined the entries from Joe Gibbs Racing, the dominant organization in the series this year.

“I do believe we’re showing signs (of improvement),” Johnson said. “And I’m living it, so I guess I’m looking for those little signs and rays of light and maybe others don’t see it. And I really try hard not to BS you guys when you ask the questions.

“But I could say in the last couple of months, we have seen some bright spots. We just need a little more consistency with it; and then most importantly, stop making mistakes. I’m part of that as well.”

Johnson won twice in the first five events of the season, at Atlanta and Fontana, but since then he has posted only four top-five finishes. Then again, racing in the summer hasn’t been one of Johnson’s strong suits.

“I’ve been able to win championships having a slow summer, which most of my summers have been slow,” Johnson said. “And then there’s a few where we were quick through them.

“When you think of the tracks that we race on during the summer months, although they are very challenging and aerodynamics do come into play, they’re not your traditional 1.5-miles and they’re really not a lot like the tracks we race on during the Chase. And, they’re not my best tracks. My best tracks really are during those final 10 events.”

Though one qualifying session doesn’t establish a trend, it was enough to give Johnson’s confidence a significant boost.

“Past history shows when you get hot, you can stay hot,” he said. “We hope we’re heating up and on the verge of getting hot.”


For the first time since NASCAR began testing a prospective lower-downforce competition package for 2017, the Sprint Cup Series is returning to a speedway for the second time with the new configuration.

Predictability, crew chiefs have learned quite a bit since the package debuted at Michigan International Speedway in June.

“I think everyone is running a little faster – about a half a second faster than what they did with this package last time, which tells me teams are getting smarter,” said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin, who qualified third for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400.

“It doesn’t take long. Once you take downforce away, these teams start to adjust, get their balance better and you see faster speeds. These are pretty quick speeds for this spoiler that’s on it. I think we’ll see how it all pans out in the race – I know it was tough to really pass in the race (in June). Hopefully, that’s a little better this time as well.”

That Hamlin claimed the third starting spot for Sunday’s race is no surprise. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has started from the top 12 for every race this season, with an average qualifying position of 6.2.

But Hamlin had a problem during Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon. Early in the practice session, his car broke traction in Turn 4 and spun into the infield grass on the frontstretch.

“That came out of nowhere,” said Hamlin, who had posted the fastest speed in the session to that point (197.878 mph).


On a cool track, Tony Stewart topped the speed chart in Saturday morning’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at 202.122 mph—faster than Joey Logano’s pole speed of 201.698 from Friday afternoon. Rookie Ryan Blaney was second fastest on Saturday morning at 201.427 mph. … A different rookie was second quickest behind Hamlin in final Sprint Cup practice. Chase Elliott, who leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings by 48 points over Blaney, ran 197.786 mph before nearby lightning brought a premature halt to the session.

- Reid Spencer / NASCAR Wire Service

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