Race Weekend Central

Breaking News From Michigan International Speedway

*Joe Gibbs Racing Oil Pans Seized*

Joe Gibbs Racing had the oil pans removed from all three cars – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano – prior to first practice. The parts were deemed “unapproved” by NASCAR, and ordered their removal. The items were not used in competition, so there is not a points penalty pending – at this time. Conjecture seems to be that the pans feature extra machining to allow the engine to sit lower in the cross member to allow more travel, getting the car lower to the ground.

Keep in mind that one of the key advantages of Ford’s fabled FR9 engine is it’s low center of gravity. If you remember as well, Kyle Busch’s car was penalized for sitting 1/16″ too low in post-race inspection following last weekend’s race at Pocono. Busch’s car had some front fender damage as well from contact with the tire – perhaps the culprit of some excessive travel. Might this not be the first time the pans have been used in competition?

Kyle Busch said in his AM press conference that there was a manufacturer issue with the front springs at Pocono – however brother Kurt mentioned during his media session he did see the confiscated pans, how far they had cut down to fit into the cross member and how “heavy” they appeared.

*Michigan International Speedway to Receive Facelift*

In recent years, MIS has made significant changes and improvements for spectators and the media. The big news surrounding changes at Michigan International Speedway this morning was regarding the track itself. Following the August 2011 race, the track will undergo a complete repaving, including grinding off two-inches of track and then applying the new asphalt. After Sunday’s race, pit road will be repaved first.

I asked driver Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet (who appeared this morning with 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bud Moore) if he had any concern with the repaving. In the past with some of NASCAR’s older track that have undergone a repaving have lost much of their character in process – such as Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago and they’re talking about turns three and four and I said, ‘Well, you realize it’s settled down there.’ The track has got two different – it’s almost got progressive banking and that’s something that the track has developed over time just due to the age of it. That’s character and that’s made for good racing.”

The real part of the equation for engineer Newman, are what rubber meets the road.

“No matter how good of a repaving crew there is, they’re still going to end up with character – and character comes with time. We don’t want it to be one grove obviously, it’s a super-wide track and it’s really a balance of what Goodyear does with the tires they bring here and how they marble up, what kind of debris they throw as far as making it a one groove track or giving us the ability to move around and get that clean air and make those passes.”

*Speaking of Tires…*

Marcos Ambrose and David Ragan both suffered punctured tires during the first practice session. No damage resulted. Ragan actually posted the fastest time at 186.601, followed by A.J. Allmendinger (186.591mph), August 2010 winner Kevin Harvick (186.519mph) David Reutimann (186.461mph) and Kasey Kahne (186.249mph).

The fear of a Ford Weekend at MIS might become a reality with a pair of Fords leading the speed charts, with two more rounding out the Top 10 with Matt Kenseth in 8th and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne in 10th. What might be of concern however may tomorrow’s weather. Typically qualifying is held on Friday for the Sprint Cup Series at MIS, however this year it is scheduled for 1:10pm with on Saturday.

The forecast calls for a 60% chance of thunder showers tomorrow, which would mean NASCAR would revert back to today’s practice times. Sunday’s forecast appears to be clear, with only a 30% chance of an isolated shower. But it’s Michigan; if you don’t like the weather…just wait half an hour. It will change.

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