By Reid Spencer
BROOKLYN, Michigan – There’s no argument about who provided the surprise in Friday’s knockout qualifying session at Michigan International Speedway.
Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman posted the fifth and sixth fastest laps in the final round, respectively, marking a major surge in speed for the RCR tandem. Dillon had only one previous top-five start this season, and that came at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., in March, when he also qualified fifth.
“Yeah, that was solid for our No. 3 team,” Dillon said after his lap. “We felt like we had a good car throughout practice that was capable to turning a lap. We had one extra lap on our tires right there, so that was a really good lap for four runs on tires. We just had to keep tweaking on it.
“We didn’t ever have the balance quite perfect until that last run. I think the driver gave up a little bit in (Turn) 3 of speed. Proud of the guys. This is our highest qualifying, I think, all year long. So we’re really pumped about that. It’s good. We’ve got to get this momentum going before the playoffs start. This is a good place to do it.”
Dillon is locked into the playoffs by virtue of his Daytona 500 victory. Newman, who is 19th in the standings, likely must win one of the next four races to claim a Playoff spot.
Both Dillon and Newman still need to find more speed in race trim. They were 20th and 21st, respectively, in Saturday’s final Cup practice.
GOODYEAR OPTS FOR SLIGHT CHANGE TO TIRE FOR CHARLOTTE ROAD COURSE
Based on testing during successive weeks in July, Goodyear has opted to bring a slightly different tire for September’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.
Goodyear is treating the Bank of America Roval 400 as a typical road course race, although the track configuration that includes the majority of the banked oval (with chicanes) and an infield portion will be raced for the first time.
“When we got to the organizational test (in July), we started seeing some heat that we didn’t really expect, to be quite honest with you,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales. “I think it’s like anything – as you go from test to test to test, everybody gets a little faster.
“We saw enough signs in the first week of the organizational test that we decided to bring some of the controls (control tires) from our March test back and evaluate that as well, which we did in the second week (July 17).
“We felt like that was going to be a better choice for the race. The difference between the two is really a minor formulation change in the tread compound. It might have a little less grip, although when we did back-to-backs, nobody could really tell any difference. It’s just a slight change, back to where we were in March, and we felt like that was the right choice.”
Goodyear will also bring rain tires to Charlotte-just in case. The rain tires are no different from those used at other road courses on the Cup circuit.
Heavy fog shrouded Michigan International Speedway on Saturday morning and cut the day’s early Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice down to a 15-minute session. Erik Jones topped the speed chart with a lap at 200.150 mph and also paced the field in best consecutive 10-lap average at 198.132 mph. Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron was second fastest in the session at 199.678 mph. … Two-time Michigan winner Joey Logano was fastest in final practice with a lap at 197.520 mph. Statistically, Michigan is one of Logano’s best tracks. In addition to the victories, Logano has three poles at the 2.0-mile speedway, as well as 13 top 10s in 19 starts. Second-place qualifier Kyle Busch was just a tick slower than Logano, with his best lap registering 197.520 mph. … Six days removed from his dramatic victory at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott spun off Turn 4 early in final practice but kept his No. 9 Chevrolet off the wall.
— NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.