After four drivers topped 200 mph in today’s first practice at Michigan International Speedway, a small but jittery chorus of panic-stricken prognosticators has begun heralding the coming of a NASCAR apocalypse.
Like Chicken Little of “The Sky is Falling” fame, they’re cackling about 218 mph corner entries, predicting chaos, upheaval and terror. They’re calling on NASCAR to make an ill-informed, knee-jerk reaction by slapping restrictor plates on the engines, despite the fact that the powerplants in use this weekend were not designed to be plate engines.
“Do something,” they wail. “Do anything! Someone’s going to DIE!”
Intentionally or not, championship contender Greg Biffle legitimized the cacophony of catastrophe, saying, “A little action, a little controversy...and certainly worthy of talking about. (But) we don't want to kill anybody. We have to walk that fine line of not killing people and creating excitement."
Those comments sent Chicken Little into a feather-shedding frenzy that has not yet abated.
Here are a few pertinent facts, just in case anyone’s interested.
FACT: Today’s sizzling speeds are no surprise. In fact, nearly identical laps were turned during a Goodyear Tire test at MIS in the month of April. NASCAR and its teams knew the 200 mph barrier would likely be eclipsed today, and somehow, they managed to avoid wetting themselves in fear.
FACT: NASCAR had two months to mandate restrictor plates, gear ratio changes or other cures prior to arriving in Brooklyn, Michigan this week, and elected not to do so. Like anyone who paid even remote attention to the April test, they knew that speeds would initially be high.
FACT: This morning’s opening practice session generated what will almost certainly be the fastest speeds of the weekend. Track and ambient air temperatures were comparatively low, generating maximum grip and horsepower, and little rubber had yet been laid down to slicken the racing surface.
FACT: Speeds in this afternoon’s practice are down by about a mile per hour, as expected. When the green flag flies for Sunday’s 400-mile race, temps will be 15-20 degrees warmer than they were in this morning’s practice. Speeds will absolutely fall as a result.
FACT: Many of the same predictions of doom were made last week, after opening practice at Pocono Raceway. Speeds decreased as the weekend wore on, no restrictor platres were needed, and best of all, nobody died.
FACT: Every single driver – Biffle included – has stressed today that while speeds are high, so is grip. The cars are extremely stable, and not one driver has complained of being anywhere near the ragged edge of control. In fact, the most common adjective being used to describe track conditions today is “comfortable.”
Unfortunately, words like “comfortable” don’t generate website hits. They don’t sell newspapers and they don’t entice panic-stricken fans to predict the end of the world on their favorite talk radio show. So instead of using their brains (and years of experience) to calmly assess the situation at MIS today, some have chosen to play the drama card, hyping this morning’s test speeds into a harbinger of doom.
Tighten up those helmets, everyone. The sky is apparently falling.