Not that long ago, most Nationwide Series races held on the Saturday before a Sunday Sprint Cup event were followed by Sprint Cup Happy Hour practice.
NASCAR changed that type schedule to trim Cup teams’ time at the track on race weekends, so Saturday’s revised schedule at Michigan International Speedway looked strange, indeed. Because Goodyear decided to switch tire compounds Friday night after excessive speeds and hot temperatures produced blistering tires, NASCAR added a post-Nationwide Cup practice so teams could adjust to the new compound.
Top speeds dropped significantly in the early minutes of the extra practice as teams adjusted to the new tires – and to regular race trims. Drivers reported both loose and tight conditions on the new rubber.
“Different cars are having different issues,” said Greg Biffle before the final practice. “Certainly, we need practice time to see how this thing drives and make proper adjustments. Maybe a different shock or bump stop, too. The other thing we are limited on is mileage on our engines. The engine shop is certainly not excited about another practice session. We are real narrow on laps on the engine, so we are going to have to get it done quick.”
Goodyear moved to a harder-compound tire for the left sides.
“The harder tire will mean it could be harder to pass; that is a possibility,” Biffle said.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said teams needed the extra practice session because of the use of the new tires, which were trucked in from North Carolina.
“We have to treat this like we haven’t been here,” Pemberton said. “It’s a new tire for this track surface. We need to give the teams enough time to get practice on it. It’s a good opportunity for guys to get a handle on their setups for Sunday.”
Todd Parrott, crew chief for pole winner Marcos Ambrose, dealt with major changes on his car after the tire switch.
“It is going to throw us in a new direction,” Parrott said. “All our guys have worked together, all the engineers on both teams have talked about air pressure and setup stuff. We feel like we have a good game plan going into it… Hopefully, it won’t affect it too bad.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.