BROOKLYN, Mich. – 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.