With the regular season speeding to its finish, we head to what is, or was, the fastest track in NASCAR.
For years, the 2-mile oval in the middle of nowhere has been the unrestricted king of speed, a track where cars still reached 215 mph long after restrictor plates at Talladega and Daytona slowed the speeds and forced engineers to come up with new ways, some legal some not, to find speed.
But now that all tracks have become plate-race tracks, Michigan has finally been reined in. The new aero package, which also came with reduced horsepower from mandated âspacersâ at all the track 1-mile or longer, effectively took the power from the engineers and gave it to the drivers.
And, of course, the drivers werenât all that happy about it.
Joey Logano dominated the June race at Michigan, leading all but 40 laps in a race slowed some 15 mph from a year ago.
And while he didnât run away and hide, no one could pass him. No one could pass anybody.
When they return this weekend, NASCAR will have lathered some sticky compound on the track, covering some 40 feet in the high groove to try and give drivers the option of running a higher line and keep the race from being single-file, as it was in June.
But based on that race, which was already run in the outside groove, it wouldâve been better to lather to lower 40 feet to allow drivers to pass low, which no one could pull off in the spring race.
Ultimately, this race is a last-gasp for teams on the outside of the playoff line, and drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman, who are virtually tied for the 16th and final spot.
For drivers yet to win a race this year, Michigan might offer the last shot at stealing one. With itâs 400-mile length and multiple grooves and long drafting lines, itâs the perfect fuel-mileage track.
And with one race with the new rules in their books, look for crew chiefs to take chances this time, particularly if Logano and the Penskeâs show up with the dominant car again.
In the two months between the races, Penske has fallen off a bit. Logano hasnât won since. Brad Keselowski hasnât won since May.
Stewart-Haas, Gibbs and Hendrick have all won in recent weeks, and they all know what Logano had two months ago.
This shapes up to be a key late-season race with no apparent favorite and a lot teams considering a Hail Mary strategy.
In the old days, they wouldâve simply brought their fastest, slickest car in the stable, qualified at 203 mph and set sail.
Those days are over.
Now itâs up to the drivers, some of them still angry from last week and some of then just angry all the time.
And the new rules havenât helped.