Changing Michigan weather challenges crew chiefs

Sixteen of NASCAR's Air Titans hit the Michigan International Speedway track early Sunday morning, hoping to stay ahead of the weather that threatened the Pure Michigan 400.

The weather this weekend at Michigan International Speedway has been, for the most part, what often is called "Chamber of Commerce" weather. However, that changed on Sunday morning as the sunny skies and blue clouds gave way to dark clouds and a misting rain. 

At 7:30 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, NASCAR’s fleet of 16 Air Titans were dispatched to the track, attempting to stay ahead of the weather and keep the track as dry as possible. 

While NASCAR was working hard to deal with the changing weather, crew chiefs and crew members were doing the same. With the rain, much of the rubber built up on the racing surface was washed away, creating what drivers and crew chiefs call a "green track." 

"I think the track is just going to be a lot faster than it was going to be," said Daniel Knost, crew chief for Kurt Busch. "I think the people who were good when the track was green and cool will probably benefit. The people who needed the track to grease up a little bit will probably suffer. The big thing is the speeds will be way up."

With cooler temperatures and overcast skies, most crew chiefs believed the race would look a lot like Saturday morning’s practice at 8:30 a.m. ET. 

"Temperature-wise, it won’t be much different than what we practiced (Saturday) morning," said Tony Gibson, crew chief for Danica Patrick. "It was cool, really cool. So, grip levels are going to be pretty high, speeds are going to be up pretty fast. Typically, when you start days like today with rain, the rubber off (the track), it’s a little slick, a little slimy.

"So, I figure the first stint, probably the first 20-30 laps it will be pretty loose, but it will come around. The track took rubber really fast on Friday, so it’ll take rubber pretty quick and the balance will be where we were."

Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers, who starts sixth and has been fast all weekend, said their team won’t be too reactionary to the weather changes. 

"When you don’t know when you’re going to race, it’s hard to guess at it," said Childers. "We’ve had a good car all weekend, so our best bet is to leave our car alone and see what the race track does. We haven’t really changed a lot since we unloaded, and the track was green when we unloaded and we were still good. If you’re way off all weekend, it’s one thing to change a lot to guess at what it’s going to be like, but most of the time you’re better of leaving it alone and you go off what you know."

Harvick was among the drivers chasing a vibration throughout the weekend, but Childers said they were able to locate the issue and that he does not expect it to be an issue in Sunday’s race. 

"We pretty much got it all fixed going into (Saturday) and didn’t have any concern at all at the end of the day," he said. "You’re going so fast here that the nose and the splitter were fluctuating. It shakes the car so bad you think the tires are getting ready to fall off."

As if the high speeds and bad vibrations were not enough for the crew chiefs throughout the garage, Sunday’s poor weather was just another variable they went to work adjusting to in early hours of Sunday.

NASCAR announced that there would be a competition caution on Lap 20 of the race to help teams adjust to whatever changing track conditions are caused by the weather.