Krupa: MIS race runs while debate over NASCAR future simmers

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
What happens in the August NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway might be totally different than Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400.

Brookyn, Mich. — Clint Bowyer won Sunday's 50th anniversary NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, now known as the FireKeepers Casino 400, in an old-fashioned way.

Bowyer's crew chief, aware of approaching rain, decided to change two tires, instead of four or none, at a critical moment.

It saved just enough time and gave Bowyer just enough traction to win a rain-shortened race.

The Fords were so powerful, when a bunch of them got together coming down the stretch, some folks at Chevrolet and Toyota might have been excused for hiding under their desks.

Whether the decision by Goodyear Racing to bring in a tire that wore out more quickly and dissipated more heat, which were both intended to add some grip, worked out is a bit tough to know given the racing conditions.

But the cars were fast, often heading into turns at speeds approaching an astonishing 220 miles per hour.

More: Roush, Penske share admiration, fond MIS memories

A good race, the June NASCAR contest at Michigan International Speedway.

What happens in August may be something totally different, as NASCAR and virtually every other racing series on the planet seeks to improve its competitive edge.

Everyone is looking for better racing these days.

While deciphering whether any improvement NASCAR, Goodyear, or anyone else authored Sunday had a significant impact on the 2018 FireKeepers Casino 400 proved difficult, there was a whole lot of talk, in the background, about how to improve things.

No consensus

Folks are not exactly agreeing, either.

But they are talking, and it sounds like a productive debate.

And the debate should go on, including discussing whether the second race at MIS in August will be a restrictor plate race, with the same package of design and aerodynamic rules used at the Charlotte Motor Speedway three weeks ago.

Some people think it delivered what racing series desperately need: A more competitive race.

Others thought the cost far too high because it made the driving too easy, reducing the drivers’ role and the most apparent human element of the sport.

Race fans in Michigan had a pretty good view of a more competitive car that makes more demands of the drivers, when IndyCar raced the Detroit Grand Prix with its new car on June 2 and 3.

When NASCAR launched an experiment at Charlotte, with a new aerodynamic package, heads turned.

When the race featured some more passing, as well as exciting finishes to the stages and the race, some folks got really excited.

But others think they got way too carried away.

“I would also say this was mission accomplished,” said Marcus Smith, president of NASCAR, who spearheaded the effort to use the new aero kit.

“I wanted to make a strong, positive impact on the sport and on the racing. Tonight, judging by the fan reaction, judging by what I saw as a fan, it was really a lot of fun, and exciting.”

NASCAR officials said they want to use the package at a few more races in 2018.

Two powerful owners, Roger Penske and Richard Childress, added their encouragement.

But while some were happier with the competitive racing, they hinted the cars were so easy to drive, they felt a bit removed from the action.

Their reviews were not pointed, however.

Cut to the chase

And that is why the series needs Brad Keselowski.

The only Michigan-born Cup champion in NASCAR history has the gift of candor, and courage.

“I think that package needs to remain solely at the All-Star race,” he said. “I think a lot of the drivers in this sport are in a position where they chose Cup racing because of the demands that the cars take to drive. I think there are a lot of fans that come to our races expecting to see the best drivers.

“I think if you put a package like this out there, like we had at the All-Star race, on a consistent basis that the best drivers in the world will no longer go to NASCAR. They will pick a different sport.”

Mince no words.

“I am thankful that it improved the show and ‘watchability’ for the All-Star race,” Keselowski said. “Those are important things to do.

“But I think we should always be mindful of our responsibility as a sport to make sure the best drivers are able to showcase their talent.

“It is a very interesting trade-off,” he said.

“I think of the three things that I like to see at a race and I think of fast cars, the best race car drivers and a great finish. Those are the three things I want to see. I think that package achieved one of those things and hurt the other two.

“In that sense, I consider it a net loss overall.”

Mark Martin tweeted on Friday that he agrees with Keselowski.

When the venerable, retired racer took the microphone in the media room at MIS on Sunday, he detailed his support in an impassioned appearance.

“Racing in NASCAR is supposed to be the hardest, most difficult thing that you can ever try to do as a race car driver,” he said.

“It really, really hurts me to think about changing that.”

One thing that counts big time in motorsport is watching drivers drive, and we have lost too much of that, across the major classifications of auto racing.

“You’ve got to be careful because there are a lot of old time supporters of this sport that are already dissatisfied with how many changes we’ve had,” Martin said.

“We have to look at the whole sport, the sport in general.”

NASCAR, as always, would be wise to listen to the drivers, especially before adopting changes that may only create an illusion of increased competitiveness.

NASCAR, indeed all of motorsport, requires more of the real thing.

“There is some integrity that I feel needs to be maintained in the sport,” Martin said.

“There are some issues that could be addressed about our racing. But artificially making the racing exciting for a portion of fans, I’d just rather see that another way.”