BROOKLYN, Mich. - NASCAR racing teams are absolute data crunching freaks. They have zip drives and laptops and mainframes that allow them to log and store every piece of information on conditions and performance at every race track, and then call on that cache of knowledge when they set up their cars to compete.
If they raced here in August, 2006, and it was 90 degrees and sunny, a couple of mouse clicks open the door to every tidbit on how the car was tweaked on that particular day. If it's cloudy and cool, well they've got stats on the appropriate rigging for that too.
The predicament the Nationwide teams find themselves in for Saturday afternoon's CARFAX 250 is one of NASCAR's making, since this is just the second race the drivers will run in the "new" Nationwide Series cars - Challenger for Dodge, Mustang for Ford, and sportier versions of the Chevy Impala and the Toyota Camry.
And because Michigan International Speedway is a two-mile, D-shaped oval, it has a different layout and distance than the drivers encountered in their first run in the new car at Daytona a few weeks ago. That was also a night race in Florida, further devaluing the performance evidence that was gathered at Daytona.
So this morning, when NASCAR turns the Nationwide drivers loose for a highly unusual full day of practice at MIS, there will be a whole lot of experimentation going on.
"It gives you a lot more information than I can digest," Colin Braun said about the lengthy test-drive session planned for MIS. Braun will drive the No. 16 Con-way Freight Mustang in today's practice, and Saturday's race.
"It's going to be interesting to take one of these cars out ... and try to make them work. It's pretty cool that NASCAR gives us a day to run these cars out there, and hopefully get them running well."
Veteran Elliott Sadler did not take part in the roll-out of the "new" Nationwide car at Daytona, so his MIS run today takes on added importance. The new car is making four appearances on the circuit this season, and then running the full Nationwide Series schedule in 2011.
"I haven't driven the new car yet, but I'll have a lot of time on Thursday with the six-hour practice session," Sadler said. "I'm hoping my experience in the Cup car can transfer over to the Nationwide side, and help us out."
Sadler, who will drive the No. 88 Grand Touring Vodka Chevy Impala in the Nationwide race, said MIS is the ideal place for him to run the updated version.
"I'm a big fan of the track, because it gives you a lot of options as a driver to move your car around and find a line that works best," Sadler said. "Having options out on the racetrack is a good thing."
Nationwide Series points leader Brad Keselowski, who will drive the new Challenger, said everyone is going into today's extended practice session a little bit blind.
"The biggest thing is that you don't know what to expect," Keselowski said. "There isn't much we can take from Daytona, other than the fact that we know we've built some pretty fast race cars. I've pointed to these races with the new Dodge Challenger as the wild cards in the championship battle. We need to ensure we stay on top of our game this weekend at Michigan."
In case anyone had any doubts about Roger Penske's plans for Sam Hornish, Jr., for next season, the racing icon and owner of Penske Racing emphatically cleared the air.
"He's not going back to open-wheel racing," Penske said about Hornish. "He's going to be in NASCAR racing."
Hornish, currently 28th in points as the Sprint Cup Series arrives at MIS for Sunday's CARFAX 400, is losing his primary sponsor, Mobil 1, at the end of the season. That, coupled with a performance Hornish calls "disappointing" on the stock car side, led to speculation that he might consider a return to Penske's IndyCar team. Hornish was 35th in points in 2008, his first full year in Cup, and 28th last season.
The Defiance native came over to NASCAR as the most decorated driver in IndyCar Series history. Hornish won three championships in IndyCar, and the 2006 Indy 500.
Penske said he is looking at "a number of sponsorship opportunities" for Hornish for 2011, and that he expected to make a decision toward the end of the current racing season.
Contact Matt Markey at:
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NASCAR racing teams are absolute data crunching freaks. They have zip drives and laptops and mainframes that allow them to log and store every piece of information on conditions and performance at every race track, and then call on that cache of knowledge when they set up their cars to compete.