Only ten laps into the 2014 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, it looked like the race would be filled with an above average amount of attrition and survival. Contenders Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Larson were among those suffering early damage to their cars. In the end however, it was a typical event at the facility. The statistics show that it’s actually a usual situation at the two-mile speedway, with most of the Cup teams involved, as resilient as they are, being able to rebound and, in some cases, score a top-10 finish.
In the last five races at Michigan, including Sunday’s, there has been at least one caution in the first ten laps, and it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen more often at other tracks. It seems to be a case where drivers have trouble getting a handle on their machines from the wave of the green flag, even after a good amount of practice. A couple of them slipped up, and no amount of practice is going to prepare competitors to race in a field of 43 though.
In addition, each of the last five Michigan races have been holding stagnant with eight or nine cautions. It is an interesting statistic when one thinks back to the non-eventful races at the facility in the past, most notably the 1999 running that went caution free. A good amount has changed since that year, however. The cars are different, the track has been repaved, racing grooves have shifted, and all of that put together has resulted in an entirely different situation. Even with the amount of cautions coming close to double digits, there is always the chance that a long green flag run is possible at a track like this one, setting up fuel-calculation considerations to achieve the highest finish possible. That was the case once again, as the conclusion, like many in the past, came down to a similar result involving a strategic race to the finish among the crews.
It is necessary to mention that at least one caution on each of those past five races since 2012 was due to debris, although it can be a touchy subject to many. It ultimately factored into the outcome, with a significant amount being noticeable on television in the closing laps, and was also prevalent in the 2013 Nationwide race at Michigan. Debris also became one of the headlining stories following Pocono when Brad Keselowski lost the lead attempting to get buildup off of his front grille. All of those races saw no final caution due to debris and a double-digit number of laps under green to finish the race. There is no doubt teams push the limit when it comes to running as efficiently as they can, but where is the line to risking going over the edge when an debris overheats a car?
In the heat of the summer, there is no doubt that the accumulation of trash around the track increases. Chunks of rubber from tire wear collect on the hot surface, and usually trash blows around frivolously during humid weather. These issues, coupled with additional factors, can result in increased temperatures inside the workings of a race car, something that can turn even more severe when the air temperature is higher. In its short history, the front grille of the Gen-6 cars appear to be more prone to collecting any sort of buildup from the track. In fact, the Ford camp even made changes between seasons to alleviate this problem. However, the general public wants these race cars to look more like those on the street and the higher risk of debris is one potential result.
It is obvious that a caution cannot be thrown every time a small piece of debris is spotted. Some even say NASCAR has been too religious with throwing them. I am glad that they decided not to throw one during the closing laps and let the race play out the way it did. I wish it would occur more often, and it shouldn’t be a matter of failing to throw a caution but rather a question of why one has been thrown for situations that sometimes appear routine near the end of a race. Finishing races under a decently-sized green flag period cannot always happen but should be done more frequently. Drivers should have to put up with the debris floating around, unless there is something on the track that could create an imminent danger. Trash is out there blowing around, small pieces of parts lie around, and tire rubber builds up on the surface. It’s all a part of racing.