Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Can Tony Stewart Stop the Bleeding in Michigan?

Can Tony Stewart Get back on Track in Michigan?

Tony Stewart’s final season of Sprint Cup competition has seen far too much smoke–and not the good kind–after his first six races in 2016.

With the No. 14 hot off a hard crash at Pocono last weekend, a rear-end failure at Dover – after crashing during final practice –  and another accident during the All-Star Race at Charlotte, Stewart is badly in need of a good run.

Getting loose and wrecking into teammate Danica Patrick at the “Tricky Triangle” meant that Stewart’s Chase chances have been put on hold as continuous troubles keep him buried in the points.

However, things haven’t all been bad since his return in April. Starting off with a solid 19th at Richmond, Stewart was given a sixth-place finish at Talladega from relief driver Ty Dillon before coming home 12th at Kansas.

So, what happened to Tony, and can it improve this weekend in Michigan?

To answer the first question, I haven’t seen much of a difference in terms of his on-track speed and off-track charisma. Stewart was looking sharp at Pocono, qualifying sixth and running top 10 consistently before the lap-94 crash, and has not been lacking his traditional character at the same time.

[Photo: Zach Catanzareti]
Time is ticking for Stewart to not only reach top 30 in points, but to get a win in his final season. [Photo: Zach Catanzareti]
The second question is the one up for debate. Michigan has been a strong track for Tony in the past. Despite having only one top 10 in the last five Michigan events, a stellar run of 16 top 10s in 20 Michigan races gives Stewart an imposing track record.

Currently sitting 36th in points, 71 markers away from 30th in points, he needs to close the gap by Richmond in order to make the Chase and win a race in the process. Michigan has always been one of those summer tracks that Stewart has gelled well with.

That whole belief that dirt racers like a looser car that runs off the right-rear tire will be put to the task this weekend with the updated downforce adjustments. For Stewart, the 2002 track winner can use the slightly evened field to pounce for a much-needed finish.

What Can We Expect with the updated Rules Package?

Say it with me: Heck, yeah!

All of NASCAR nation let out a similar remark in the past couple weeks when a newer version of the new downforce package was announced to be put into use at Michigan this weekend and Kentucky in July.

Less than a year removed from the last package test in the summer of 2015, NASCAR will take the next step toward a more competitive series when they shorten the spoiler height from 3.5 inches to 2.5, with a setup that also includes changes to the deck fin and the splitter.

What are reasonable expectations for Sunday? Better racing? Sure, but I’m talking specifics: The racing grooves, tire wear, rhythms of lead changes, the effect of aero push, number of leaders [dominator or not?] and, obviously, the style of passing we see as a run goes on.

All of these can lead to a kind of Michigan we haven’t seen since the track’s 2012 repave. I feel comfortable in predicting a wide, wide racetrack on Sunday afternoon, and Joey Logano feels the same way.

“It’s going to widen the track out, we’ve seen that this year,” Logano said of the package. “It gets back to old Michigan, before they repaved it, when we used to run up against the wall. I don’t know if we’ll go that high. I think we’ll go that direction some.”

Unknowns, for the race fan, are always a good thing. That’s why we all watch these races; because when the cars are in Turn 1, we don’t know what will happen next in Turn 2. The same can be said for cancelled practice sessions or changes to the cars, where the drivers and teams couldn’t be paying more attention to each and every part of that event.

Last year Kentucky saw a whopping number of cautions, with each leading to a splendid restart that opened opportunity to other drivers outside the lead. With an already popular beginning of the season in terms of competition, Michigan’s debut test with this package will add another step to the ladder of incredible competition.

Will German Quiroga Make the Most of Second Chance?

Welcome back, German Quiroga.

One of the hottest personalities, both on and off the racetrack, was missed from the Camping World Truck Series grid when the Mexico native was unable to return with Red Horse Racing for 2015.

After a number of close wins in his time in the series, the 36-year-old will make his return to the seat Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway in Red Horse’s No. 11 Toyota.

Based on his latest 1.5-mile experience, Quiroga can certainly bring it home a solid result. Quiroga has five top-10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks. Texas in particular saw one of his top drives when he placed third in 2013, his first top 5 ever in the Trucks.

Quiroga will welcome a similar fate with open arms this time around, now that his future time in the seat is uncertain.

That fact alone is destined to give the 2011 Mexico Series champion an extra boost of what-to when the green flag flies for the Rattlesnake 400 Friday night.

Will F1 See Another Thriller in Canada?

Formula 1 is off to a hot start.

With a run of four straight wins for Nico Rosberg to kick things off, a bombshell victory by the tenacious teen, Max Verstappen, in Spain led the sport into a strong upward spiral into their Daytona 500, the Monaco Grand Prix.

With reigning champion Lewis Hamilton outlasting Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull’s pit stop error to grab the win, the calendar now shifts to Canada, a track still recovering from the intensely dramatic race of 2014.

If you didn’t catch it, shame, shame. If you did, you know it as the day the Mercedes W05 duo hit the ground for the first time in their era while the whole field seemed to beg for their time in the spotlight.

A first lap crash between the two Marussia drivers, Max Chilton and the late Jules Bianchi, set the tune for the afternoon. When both Mercedes cars suffered a simultaneous abandonment of hybrid power, Hamilton soon dropped out with a brake issue while Rosberg soldiered on.

The first-year Red Bull man, Ricciardo, pounced in the closing laps, taking his first career F1 win while Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez crashed violently behind him into Turn 1 on the last lap.

Fascination, fire, fury – it was the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix.

Now, two years later, following a 2015 race which saw smaller drama but stellar racing action to fall back on, the 2016 version of Canada is shaping up to be another one to remember.

This year has seen a bit of everything through six races. The amount of improvement made from Red Bull has put the purple and blue liveries right in contention if Mercedes find even a hiccup of trouble – say, a slow get-go when the lights go out.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in itself also has a bit of everything, with a couple long straightaways, a few sections of esses and a heavy braking zone simply called the “Hairpin.”

Straight-line speed is important, but staying out of trouble finds its way of becoming a factor.

Last year, Kimi Raikkonen was in prime position to grab his first Montreal podium in nearly 10 years when he spun exiting the hairpin, handing the spot to fellow Fin Valtteri Bottas.

Whether it be a first-lap nightmare, a last-lap fracas or a mechanical breakdown, watch out F1, here comes Montreal.

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