BROOKLYN, Mich. - The Nationwide Series drivers spent two long practice sessions out on the Michigan International Speedway track yesterday, trying to unlock the mysteries of the "new" car the series will run for the full 2011 season.
The innovative rides -Mustang for Ford, Challenger for Dodge, and sportier versions of the Chevy Impala and the Toyota Camry - will make their second of four live runs this season in tomorrow's CARFAX 250.
Nationwide Series points leader Brad Keselowski, who took his Challenger to the fourth fastest time in the afternoon session with a 175.490 mph run, said a win at MIS would carry bonus awards. Not only would he enhance his already fat 327 point lead, but it would also come close to Keselowski's Rochester Hills hometown, and close to the nerve center of his manufacturer - Dodge.
"Winning is always important in this sport, and another win would certainly help everybody here, but especially being good for Dodge being in the hometown area," he said.
"A win would mean so many different things on so many different levels -
being able to do it in the Dodge Challenger, to being able to justify our position on top of the standings, and give us more momentum through the end of the season."
Carl Edwards, who stands second in points, had the fastest car in the morning session, pushing his Mustang to a 178.103 mph lap. Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick was the quickest in the afternoon in his Chevy, posting a 177.205 mph run.
Danica Patrick, who is dipping her toe in the stock car waters this season with a limited Nationwide schedule, was 23rd fastest in the morning and 26th in the afternoon.
Keselowski indicated earlier that the unusual full day of practice might present the Nationwide drivers with more questions than answers, going into tomorrow's morning qualifying, and the race in the afternoon.
"We're going to have to work and dial it in," he said. "It's almost more of a trial-and-error system, and the approach is to just go out there and work our butts off like we always do."
IZZO/PACE CAR: Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo will drive the pace car for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at MIS, the CARFAX 400. The native of the Upper Peninsula has been directing the Spartans' program for 15 seasons, and taken his team to six Final Four appearances and one national championship.
ROUSH RELEASED: Jack Roush, the co-owner of the Roush Fenway Racing team, was released from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, two weeks after being hospitalized following a plane crash. Roush had been piloting his own plane to an air show in Wisconsin when it went down. His return to the race track has not been determined, a spokesman said.