- How will the new rules package affect the racing this weekend at Michigan?
NASCAR has ruled that all teams will be running with the 2017 rules package this weekend at Michigan. It is not the first race for the new, even lower downforce package however; the tiny spoiler has been used in the All-Star race, in the June Michigan race, and finally Kentucky last month.
Although the racing hasn’t been dramatically different from the 2016 package, drivers such as Carl Edwards have been happy with the results and feel Michigan is a good place for the test. “Michigan is a tough place because even though we’re reducing downforce, there is still a lot of it, but it’s a very high-speed track so any aero changes, they are magnified there,” Edwards was quoted saying by NASCAR.com.
It’s doubtful this package will be used at any other race this season due to NASCAR’s reluctance to use different aero packages in the Chase. With no change announce for Darlington or Richmond, this seems to be it until the cars roll off at Atlanta in March.
Michigan seems to be the test track for NASCAR rule changes. In addition to this season’s tests, the second Michigan race last season was contested with a high drag package. In theory, it would allow teams to easily slingshot ahead of others a la restrictor plate racing or superspeedway racing in IndyCar. In practice, the lead car had a big aero advantage and the only way there could be lead changes were during pit stops, leading to one of the worst races in recent memory.
One interesting factor seen during these test races so far has been the lack of Toyota dominance. Speaking of…
- Can Toyota rebound from a medicore qualifying effort?
In the two points races run this season with the 2017 aero package, Toyota hasn’t struggled as much as they have appeared human. At Michigan, Toyotas only led ten laps and only had one car in the top 10, that being Carl Edwards in sixth. At Kentucky, three Toyotas finished in the top 10, but the brand was only out front for 48 laps.
Instead, this new package seems to give a slight advantage to the Team Penske Fords. Team Penske finished 1-2 in the All-Star race and followed that up with Joey Logano dominating and winning Michigan from the pole. Brad Keselowski, not to be outdone, won Kentucky the next month. Logano will also be on the pole for Sunday’s race, with only two Toyotas in the top ten.
If there is a Toyota driver that looks to be in the best shape for Sunday, that may be Edwards, who rolls off ninth. Edwards loves the low downforce package, and along with his sixth at Michigan, finished runner-up at Kentucky. He has been the highest finishing Toyota driver in every race with this new rules package.
- Can any of the three top “guest” drivers in the XFINITY series close the deal and finally win?
There are three guest drivers in top fleet equipment for the XFINITY race at Road America. They are as follows:
Michael McDowell: The usual driver for Leavine Family Racing, this weekend he’ll be racing for Richard Childress Racing in Road America. LFR, a customer team for RCR, has had Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 95 car and will continue to have him in until Sunday.
McDowell has had some great success on road courses in his NASCAR career, with three of his five top 5s in XFINITY competition coming on the road courses. He has been fast so far, placing first and second in the two practice sessions for the race and qualifying second. McDowell is the only driver of the three that has a full time NASCAR career, and is one of only a few full-time (or near full-time) Sprint Cup Series drivers without a win in any NASCAR national touring series race. McDowell has the experience edge, but the other two drivers have been more competitive in their respective series.
Owen Kelly: An Aussie who has hooked up with JGR to drive the team’s vaunted No. 18 Toyota this week. Kelly was second and fourth in the practice sessions and will qualified fourth. Although Kelly doesn’t have as much experience driving stock cars as the other two, he is in superior equipment; JGR has absolutely dominated this season. Kelly’s best XFINITY finishes so far have been fifth and fourth, both coming at Road America.
Alex Tagliani: “Tags” will probably be the only driver to make starts in both IndyCar and NASCAR this season, where he usually races in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. Tagliani, in the No. 22 for Team Penske this week, has only one major open wheel victory, but it came at Road America, the only oneof the three who have tasted victory at the Elkhart Lake road course. Tagliani will start on pole for Saturday’s race, his fifth in just nine starts, and has three runner-up finishes in his career.
- Could another surprise winner come from out of the Ford camp this weekend?
With how successful Ford has been with this new package, there’s a possibility that Ford could see another surprise winner before the Chase. Here’s a look at three possible candidates:
Ryan Blaney (20th in points): the odds on favorite of the bunch, Blaney has access to most of Team Penske’s data and has run well this season. He has been plagued by inconsistency however, and needs some solid runs to at least get back into the Rookie of The Year picture.
Greg Biffle (22nd in points): Biffle has always been at least decent at Michigan. He has four wins at the two mile track and his 2013 win is the most recent for both himself and Roush. “The Biff” has struggled this season, but finished sixth at Kentucky, the last race with this new aero package.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (19th in points): Stenhouse is on pace for a career year, but needs a win to get into the Chase. After an emotional second at Bristol last week, he has the momentum, and with how much Roush has put into his Michigan cars, will have a decent shot at a surprise victory.