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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Joey Logano glanced over his left shoulder at the leaderboard that hung above the start/finish line at Michigan International Speedway. Then the 23-year-old Sprint Cup driver considered the gradually increasing speeds during Friday’s qualifying session for the Pure Michigan 400.
“Hopefully it doesn’t get any faster than it does now,” Logano said, with a sly grin.
More than one-third of the way through qualifying, Logano had the fastest qualifying-lap time. Yet he had to watch from pit road as the remainder of the 44 drivers attempted to match or best his qualifying speed.
None of them did, and only a handful came close.
Logano won the pole for Sunday’s race on the 2-mile superspeedway, finishing with a top speed of 203.949 miles an hour.
“The track’s a lot different than what it used to be, and it used to be up against the wall,” said Logano, who broke the track qualifying record of 203.241, set in June of 2012 by Marcos Ambrose. “It had some bumps, and it had some character. Now it’s a really fast, smooth track, and it’s slowly but surely widening out.”
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Logano was the fastest of 25 drivers who had qualifying runs of at least 200 miles an hour.
Even with the stock cars prepared solely for optimum lap speed and not for competition against other cars, drivers attributed a stretch of consistent speeds to several factors, including ideal temperatures, the fine-tuning of the Gen-6 race car, the condition of the track more than a year and a half after a repave, even cloud positions above the track — though Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t side for or against meteorology.
“Of course, we wanted to be a little bit faster, and I had a really, really good race car,” said Johnson, who qualified third (203.470 mph) behind Logano and Kurt Busch (203.695) after posting the fastest practice run of 203.355 miles an hour during Friday’s lone Sprint Cup practice session.
“I don’t want to put too much stock in the clouds [over the track] but you’ll take everything you can get. You’re really stacking pennies at this stage of the season. Everybody’s so strong that you’ll take any little advantage you can get. We didn’t get the cloud there but I’m not going to put the weight on the cloud.”
In Mark Martin’s case, sheer enthusiasm played a role.
“Man, it’s fun to drive race cars like that!” said Martin, who qualified fourth at 203.218. “The track seems really good today. I don’t know, I think we’re figuring out these cars and making them faster. We were fast at the beginning of the year but all the teams are learning how to maximize them and getting more out of them now.”
Now Logano and the field will go from each team’s qualifying setup for the cars to preparing for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, with a pair of 55-minute practice sessions at 8:30 a.m. and 11:55 a.m. today.
“You’re taking tape off the grill, and you’re changing your air pressure a lot for a long run,” said Logano, who will qualify for today’s Camping World Truck Series Michigan National Guard 200 at 9:35 a.m. “Those two things are huge. You have to have your offset to your race setup kind of figured out, but we know where we’re at from where we were in the spring and what we had in race-trim practice. You’ve got to definitely improve your car quite a bit. You put all that downforce on the front of your cars, you’ve got to find a way to tighten them up. You’ve got to have that figured out before you get to the race track.”
TRUCKS PRACTICE: Kyle Busch had the fastest speed of 187.578 mph in Friday’s practice sessions for the Michigan National Guard 200. Qualifying begins at 9:35 a.m. today, and the 100-lap race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.