Brooklyn, Mich. — When a heavy fog settled into the Irish Hills and postponed the second practice for the Consumers Energy 400 Saturday morning, Joey Logano said sitting around waiting to get into the car did not amount to much fun.
But, it barely affected anyone’s plans.
"These early morning practices don't do much but confuse you, anyway,” said Logano, the Team Penske driver, who is sixth in the standings, and qualified ninth for the Consumers Energy 400 Sunday.
On a track surface that responds differently when it is cloudy than when the sun shines, the differences can be remarkable between 8:35 a.m., when the practice was scheduled, and 2:50 p.m., when the green flag is to fly Sunday.
The third practice, which ran from 11:30 a.m.-12:20 p.m. on Saturday is a more reasonable facsimile of the likely conditions, given the weather forecast for Sunday.
As always, the first practice came Friday from 12:05-12:55 p.m., five-and-a-half hours before qualifying.
Practices are intended to provide drivers and teams with strong evidence of the performance of the car in the race.
Eventually, NASCAR provided a delayed, 15-minute practice for the second session.
At MIS, because of the varying conditions based on weather and track temperatures at different times of the day, practice does not necessarily make perfect.
Most drivers seemed perfectly happy to stay off the track during the postponed second practice, even if it meant hanging out in the garage.
“It doesn’t really affect many of the teams here,” said Logano, who qualified for the playoffs, which begin Sept. 16 in Las Vegas by winning at Talladega.
Austin Dillon, who qualified fifth and made the playoffs with his win in the Daytona 500, had a frank view, too.
“To me, this is my least favorite practice of the year,” he said. “It’s way too early, and these guys wake up and want to go 215 miles an hour, way into the corner.”
The racing surface at MIS is so petulant in qualifying. Many teams remained along pit row until the sun came out because heat dramatically increases tire grip. So, better to put one’s best tires to the surface, then.
“Early practices at Michigan aren’t very useful anyway,” said Ryan Blaney, the Team Penske driver who qualified eighth.
Repaving at the 50-year-old MIS in 2012 resulted in a narrowed racing groove, limiting the ability of drivers to pass.
But plenty of grip remains in the track, according to Goodyear, a tire supplier to NASCAR since 1954, and the exclusive supplier to the top three series since 1997.
With top speeds at 212 miles per hour and the steep banking of MIS, designed 50 years ago to mimic Daytona, enormous heat is created, and absorbed, by the tires.
Given the conditions, and repeated efforts to widen the racing groove, including extensive use of the Tire Dragon in the hope of wearing it in, Goodyear held a test at MIS in April to prepare for the season.
Tread compounds designed to wear more and dissipate the heat were the result.
The tire circumference on the left side is 87.68 inches, and 88.62 on the right.
The recommended pressure on the left front and rear is 22 pounds per square inch. On the right, it is 54 psi on the front and 50 on the back.
“Michigan still has a lot of grip in the track surface, and as a result, we see very high speeds, here,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of racing. “Simply stated, grip leads to higher speeds, and that leads to more heat being built up in the tires.”
“What we came up with at our test this spring, and what we saw in the race in June, was that our new tire setup wore a bit more, which is really good for two reasons: More tire fall-off leads to tire management coming into play in the race strategy, and tire wear is the primary way to help tires lose heat and operate more optimally.”
In cooperation with the Red Wings, MIS will be the site of a unique, outdoor hockey tournament, Jan. 4-6, and Jan. 11-13.
The inaugural MIS Backyard Hockey Tournament and Winter Festival will feature three-on-three and four-on-four tournaments with backyard rinks set up on the track, pit road arrayed with food, beverages and winter activities, and seating available in the suites.
Teams can sign up at mispeedway.com/hockey beginning Aug. 15.
“Backyard hockey rinks dot the state of Michigan from Downriver to the east and west sides of the U.P.,” said Chris Granger, Ilitch Holdings, Inc. group president, sports & entertainment. “We’re proud to support these fun and competitive weekends on the racetrack rinks.”
The Red Wings are the marketing partner, and the Jackson Area Hockey Association is helping run the tournament, in which teams will play at least five games and the champions eight.
“We are excited to host the annual MIS Backyard Hockey Tournament,” MIS president Rick Brenner said. “This unique experience is another opportunity to contribute to the economic impact of the facility, in Michigan.
"We look forward to celebrating the game of hockey right here at NASCAR’s most entertaining track.”
Consumers Energy 400
When: 2:30 Sunday
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich.
Support race: Trucks, Corrigan Oil 200, 1 p.m. Saturday