BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The repaved track at Michigan International Speedway wasn't just fast. It was blistering, almost breakneck fast. So fast that some of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who took laps during a test session on the two-mile oval wondered if they'd crossed the fine line between "fast" and "too fast."
Of the 43 Sprint Cup drivers who tested and practiced Thursday at MIS in preparation for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, seven eclipsed average lap speeds of 200 miles per hour, including Tony Stewart, who posted the top average speed of 201.896. Yet track officials and drivers tagged speeds at upwards of 218 miles per hour -- speeds reached within a lap, as opposed to the average speed of one lap around the oval.
"Man, this place is really, really fast," Greg Biffle said after morning testing. "I never would have thought we would be running 35.80 [seconds a lap]. Every lap is like a qualifying lap and you are holding your breath."
Biffle had the second-fastest average speed of 201.556 miles per hour in testing, ahead of Kurt Busch (201.174), Kevin Harvick (200.697), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (200.658), Paul Menard (200.111), and Clint Bowyer (200.078).
But after the 43 Sprint Cup drivers tested Thursday morning at MIS, NASCAR officials anticipated a drop in speeds for this weekend's Quicken Loans 400 and said they would not opt to use restrictor plates at MIS.
"What we saw this way, for speed, this is the best shape the track will be in," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition. "The grooves will widen, and the pace will slow down."
It was hard to say whether that was a prediction or a guarantee.
In April, only four Sprint Cup drivers tested the track -- Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselow-ski, and Matt Kenseth. The four drivers reached speeds of up to 215 miles per hour on the track, repaved in October.
Thursday's testing created a quandary -- was the track too fast?
"I don't think it hurts any," said Jimmie Johnson, whose best lap average was 197.547. "I just want everyone to be ready. Because we are going faster doesn't mean that the race on Sunday is going to be more competitive."
Bowyer deduced this much: the hotter the track, the better the drivers can manipulate the surface. But there was also the question of learning the nuances of the track as a driver -- not just as far as the track itself, but how to drive it next to other drivers entered in Sunday's Quicken Loans 400.
"It's going to be interesting to see where you can move around and hopefully where you can pass," Bowyer said. "Really, it just feels like running Nationwide cars to me.
"This is the first time a track this size has been repaved like this since I've been in the sport. It's amazing how much of a difference it's made. Just the center corner speed is so much greater than it used to be. It's going to be interesting to see how we can race around cars and around each other and put on a show."
Pemberton pointed out that different dynamics will affect the speed of the race, particularly a drop in speed: track temperature and weather temperature, tire rubber that accrues in the grooves on the race track, and driver drafting. John Darby, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series director, reiterated that driver practice times -- when drivers are driving alone, instead of in a pack of multiple drivers -- are strong.
Pemberton also said that driver speed is subjective from track to track.
"When you run a 200, you might be a 215 somewhere and a 180 somewhere else," Pemberton said.
ON THE CLOCK: While drivers and their cars responded well to the repave, Johnson found some exception to the testing process -- drivers could not see their lap times in real time, instead relying on broadcast lap times at the track.
"I like the segments, because it leads to good, quality efforts, and you're rewarded for a good, quality effort" Johnson said. "If we did see the times, it could end a lot of concerns."
DARK KNIGHT: Earnhardt is second in the Sprint Cup Series standings behind Matt Kenseth, but Earnhardt enters Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 winless in his last 143 races, a stretch that dates back to June 15, 2008, when he won at MIS.
"We're second in points right now, so if we can put together this type of performance in the chase [for the championship], I don't know if we can't consider ourselves in challenge for the championship," said Earnhardt, who will drive a Batman-inspired Chevrolet this weekend at MIS.
"We have to go into that with great confidence."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.