New aerodynamic package has drivers looking forward to Sunday

Brad Keselowski prepares to practice Friday at Michigan. (Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski prepares to practice Friday at Michigan. (Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski prepares to practice Friday at Michigan. (Getty Images)

BROOKLYN, Mich. – After Friday’s opening 85-minute NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session at Michigan International Speedway, there was strong consensus among drivers as to the lower-downforce aerodynamic package in place for Sunday’s FireKeepers 400 (at 1 p.m. ET on FS1).

In a word, the new configuration was “challenging.”

That’s exactly what it was supposed to be.

“Speeds are blazing fast down the straightaway but quite a bit slower in the corner, and that has been interesting,” said 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski. “It’s a nice change of pace. We are all kind of learning together how that will affect the racing. I don’t think anyone will have an answer until they drop the green flag on Sunday.

“I really feel good about it. It’s fun to drive. You enter the corner at almost 220 miles-an-hour, and you turn left, and the front goes, and the back doesn’t always go with it. That’s quite a feeling, for sure.”

NASCAR first employed this aerodynamic package in the May 21 Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. The package—which features a smaller spoiler, smaller splitter side pieces and tapered rear deck lid fin, along with the elimination of rear-end skew—also will be used in the July 9 event at newly repaved Kentucky Speedway. Ultimately, these races will help NASCAR solidify its rules for 2017.

“This is just another step toward creating closer competition and great racing that the fans and the media and everybody wants to see,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “We want to see that really bad, and I think this direction has been something that’s been embraced by the drivers.

“And actually, we’ve worked together with them to land here and try this for this year as a potential way to move forward with closer competition.”

Chase Elliott led the opening practice with a speed of 201.630 mph.  Keselowski was eighth.

Groundhog Day comes late to Michigan

An unexpected interloper delayed Friday’s first NASCAR XFINITY Series practice for 10 minutes.

The sudden appearance of a groundhog on the race track forced officials to halt the session while track workers at MIS attempted to capture the misplaced critter.

At first, a small plastic trash can was used to corral the groundhog, but the animal escaped and scurried away, eluding pursuers. Finally, track workers resorted to a larger trash can to catch the groundhog and remove it from the asphalt.

MIS officials announced the groundhog had been taken to a 65-acre tract of land owned by the Speedway and known as the Phelps property.

There was no confirmation that the groundhog had seen his shadow during the on-track excursion.