Breaking of 200 mph barrier raises safety concerns for NASCAR

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There were four drivers in Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway who weren’t born the last time anyone qualified faster than 200 mph in NASCAR.

Marcos Ambrose and 18 other drivers broke 200 mph in qualifying.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Marcos Ambrose and 18 other drivers broke 200 mph in qualifying.

Marcos Ambrose led a parade of 19 drivers to break the 200 mph barrier for the first time since Bill Elliott’s lap of 203.827 mph in 1987 at Talladega Superspeedway.

All the necessary ingredients for speed – tires, new asphalt, no restrictor plates and enough banking to keep the gas pedal flat on the floorboard – fell into place for a rare feat that might not be duplicated for a long time.

“I can’t hardly remember that far back,” Richard Petty said after Ambrose put one of his cars on the pole at 203.242 mph. “To be able to do it on a flatter race track, not Daytona or Talladega, that is unheard of.”

The track will lose grip as it ages and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. is likely
to bring a harder tire to the next race to keep the cars under 200 mph.

NASCAR has used a variety of methods, including restrictor plates at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, to stay below 200 mph since Bobby Allison went airborne at Talladega in 1987 and nearly landed in the main grandstands.

None of the drivers in Sunday’s race were in the sport 25 years ago, so the 200 mph level was something new.

“It is the fastest lap at Michigan ever and everything you said,” Ambrose said. “And it felt that fast out there too. It felt like I was getting it done.”

While fans seem attracted to the 200 mph mark, some wonder if it’s too fast.

Sunday’s race was the first time several drivers openly talked about fear and safety. Usually they ignore the obvious – racing can be dangerous – choosing to believe they are invincible to the hazards.

The 200 mph barrier changed all that.

“We don’t feel bulletproof; not at these speeds,” Denny Hamlin said. “You hate to think about what could happen. But running the speeds that we’re running at the end of the straightaway. If someone gets turned the wrong way it could not be good going into Turn 1, that’s for sure – or Turn 3, especially if you get turned heading the wrong way if you get turned in the right-rear.

“At these speeds I don’t think we’ve tested these cars at these speeds yet as far as crashes.”

Hamlin did crash in Sunday’s race, but he walked away knowing another driver, not the speeds, caused the accident.

ROAD EXPERTS: Sunday’s race on the road course at Sonoma Raceway is a great chance for car owners currently not among the top 35 in the rankings to steal a good finish with a road-racing expert.

Several teams will use a specialized driver for the 110-lap race, including Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota for Mark Martin.

Other ringers include: Trans-Am champion Tomy Drissi in Tommy Baldwin’s No. 10 Chevrolet – the same car shared by Danica Patrick and David Reutimann; and Brian Simo in TRD’s No. 30 Toyota.

Usually there are more road course ringers, but the Nationwide Series is on the road course at Road America. Sports car drivers Ron Fellows, Jacques Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet, Miguel Paludo and Max Papis will try to turn their expertise into a good finish.


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