Brooklyn – NASCAR Sprint Cup owner Jack Roush was not happy with the series’ decision to use new rules to the aerodynamic package to further reduce downforce and sideforce for this weekend’s FireKeepers Casino 400 race at Michigan International Speedway.
Roush, a Livonia businessman, owns more Sprint Cup wins (13) at MIS than any other Sprint Cup owner. He also won consecutive Sprint Cup series championships in 2003 (Matt Kenseth) and 2004 (Kurt Busch). But the team has struggled in recent years, going winless since 2014 and failing to have a driver even make the Chase last season.
“It’s different from what it was, no doubt,” said the 74-year-old Roush of the new rules package. “Nobody had been on the race track with this package before. Everybody is struggling to find out where the sensitive adjustments are. The car has not been as loose as we expected. We thought that the problem would be flying out from underneath of you, loose on exit and entry. The entry has been a little bit of a problem, but the exit and center has not been a bigger problem than normal.
“We have one more practice today and of course after 100 laps tomorrow (in the race) we’ll know which way it’s going, but until then we won’t be sure.”
Roush’s three-car team of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (12th), Trevor Bayne (13th) and Greg Biffle (18th) all qualified outside the top-10 Friday.
Bayne did find some speed in Happy Hour practice, the final practice Saturday, going fourth-fastest in his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford at 193.778 mph around the two-mile superspeedway.
With the rules change, the spoiler was shortened an inch from 3.5 inches to 2.5 and the splitter reduced from 5 inches to 2, hopefully leading to drivers being able to get better runs on their counterparts for more passing opportunities. However, the cars tend to get loose, making it more of a challenge for drivers.
“I haven’t run in dirty air (traffic) much; most of the practice you try to run by yourself. But I expect it will be pretty tough to pass like it always is here no matter what package you’ve got,” said Bayne, who won the Daytona 500 in 2011. “They’re sliding around like crazy (in the corners). They’re tough to drive, but everybody’s got the same thing. It’s Michigan and it’s tough to pass here.”
Temperatures should be cooler on race day from the 90-plus degrees during practice.
“It’s going to be 15, 20 degrees cooler and that definitely effects your balance a lot, but as it heated up today in practice I thought the track just got tighter,” Bayne said. “Hopefully we’ll have a little more front turn as it cools off and our car will be better.”
The cars have gone from 3,000 pounds of downforce in 2014 to 2,700 last season, then 2,000 for the 2016 season before yet another reduction to 1,500 for MIS.
“It’s a big turn and it’s also disappointing to me that they decided to pick one of the races that I consider to be pivotal to my year and not make such a jump ball out of it,” said Roush of the changes. “I wish they left the rules the same and give us a practice session somewhere to really evaluate them, or a test session, but they decided to use the race to do it, so we’ll have to see what we can get.”
Nine different drivers – Kyle Busch (three), Brad Keselowski (two), Carl Edwards (two), Jimmie Johnson (two), Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Kenseth – have already won at least one race to automatically get locked into one of the 16 Chase spots, giving them the opportunity to compete for the championship during the final 10 races of the season. Drivers will have a dozen more races to try to earn a win to get in before the cutoff point.
In 2015, Biffle, Stenhouse Jr. and Bayne failed to reach Victory Lane and failed to have at least one reach the Chase for the first time in team history.
Stenhouse, 28, is in his fifth year with the team but still looking for his first win and first Chase appearance.
“He’s on his way,” Roush said. “He deserves to be at this level and we just need to get the speed in his car so he can win his races.”
Roush’s top driver in past years – since the departure of Kenseth and then Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing – is the aging Biffle, who is 46 and owns 19 Sprint Cup victories, his last coming in the June race at MIS in 2013. He placed 20th in points last season.
Roush’s last win came from Edwards at Sonoma in August 2014, also the last time the team earned a Chase spot when he finished ninth.
This season, Stenhouse (19th), Bayne (20th) and Biffle (25th) are all sitting outside the Chase’s 16 spots and without a win, with Stenhouse and Bayne owning just one top-five finish and Biffle still looking for his first top 10 finish of the year.
Dillon, Keslowski tops in practice
Austin Dillon was fastest during the final practice Saturday afternoon, turning in a lap of 194.301 mph in his No. 3 Dow Salutes Veterans Chevrolet for his grandfather, Richard Childress.
Keselowski, a native of Rochester Hills, was second-fastest in his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford (194.013), followed by Johnson (193.851), the six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.