In the days leading up to any given NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, there’s always plenty of guessing — some educated, some not — about what will happen that weekend: Who will win, who will run well, who will have a disappointing weekend?
But when it comes to racing at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, there’s one thing that can be said with absolute and total certainty: The speeds will be fast. Very, very fast.
The last time the Sprint Cup crowd was at MIS — August 2013, to be precise — Joey Logano put down a pole lap of 203.949 miles per hour, which was the ninth-fastest qualifying lap in the entire history of NASCAR. More to the point, it was fastest NASCAR qualifying lap at a non-restrictor-plate track.
MIS was repaved prior to the start of the 2012 season and the result was that speeds went through the roof, starting in June 2012 when Marcos Ambrose won the pole with a lap of 203.241 mph, a speed some nine mph faster than Ryan Newman’s old track record. In fact, the four fastest poles speeds at non-plate tracks have all been set at MIS in the last four races.
"The track is really fast and has a ton of grip," said Jamie McMurray, who won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month. "It seems that this always comes down to being a fuel-mileage race, so pit strategy will come into play on Sunday. We have had really fast cars and I hope we can continue the good finishes that we have had the last several weeks."
But the ultra high speeds have not been a hit with everyone.
"Michigan changed so much when they paved it," said Matt Kenseth, who comes into the race second in the Sprint Cup points standings, but without a race victory this year. "Before they paved it — it was probably one of the best tracks on the circuit. You could run from the apron in (Turns) 3 and 4 all the way up against the fence and there were people just all over the place looking for grip."
That hasn’t been the case for the past two seasons.
"It’s really been a single lane, very treacherous, very hard to race around other cars and aero-sensitive track since they paved it," Kenseth said. "I’m hoping after another year of winter it will be better when we get there this time."
Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart is optimistic about the racing improving this time around.
"It should be better. That first year, once it cleaned off, it seemed like the track got to be pretty good," Stewart said. "It was still a relatively one-groove track, but it got better as the weekend went on. It was even better last year and really we should see more of the same even with the higher speeds.
"Hopefully, the racetrack will continue on that path and continue to widen out," Stewart added. "It was a lot racier than I thought it would be, right off the bat, and it’s just been getting better so I’m anticipating it’s going to be even better when we get back on it this weekend."