Bubba Wallace will start out on top at the FireKeepers Casino 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, handling fans with the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR since February 2021.
Wallace averaged 190.703 mph to win his first career spot. The previous high this season in the new Next Generation sedan was 183.7 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Trying to tell yourself to open (the gas) wide seems easy, but it’s a challenge,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s team radio was on the wrong channel, so when he crossed the finish line during playoffs, he didn’t get an update on his speed.
“I came across the line and… silence,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, you just failed this lap. “
He found his way to the right channel, and was “pumped” to hear the news.
Here’s a look at the fastest playoff times this season.
(Can’t see the graph? click here.)
There has been no qualification at MIS since 2019. It was canceled in 2019 and 2020 to shorten racing weekends during the pandemic. Wallace’s lap was the fastest qualifying lap at MIS since 2018, when Denny Hamlin went 202.794 mph.
The achievement record is 206.558 mph, set by Jeff Gordon in 2014.
NASCAR drivers have exceeded 200 mph in qualifying just 14 times since 2000 — and 11 of them have come in MIS.
Speeds at MIS slowed in 2019 when NASCAR changed the engines from 750 hp to 550 hp. This year with its Next Generation car, NASCAR has increased its power to 670 horsepower – which has increased the speeds.
Here’s a look at the fastest Cup Series qualifying laps at MIS from the first race in 1969 through this weekend.
(Can’t see the graph? click here.)
Wallace needs to win the next four races, or else he will miss the playoffs. His only career win came at the Talladega Superspeedway last fall.
He has had success before in MIS. Wallace won the 2017 NASCAR Truck Series race on the track, becoming the first black driver to win in track history. So far, Wallace describes it as one of the biggest races of his career.
At the time, Wallace’s Xfinity team had just closed down. He was sitting on his sofa reevaluating his racing career when he got a call to do a one-time truck race at MIS.
This was proof that “I still get it,” Wallace said.
“I will never forget that race here,” Wallace said. “It was unbelievable to be a part of, and it was unbelievable to win. A lot of good things are happening here in Michigan. It would be great to continue in that direction tomorrow.”
Related: Unemployed a week ago, Daryl Wallace Jr. became the first black driver to win MIS
The fastest track in NASCAR
MIS markets itself as “NASCAR’s Fastest Path,” and it lives up to these billings.
Driver Austin Cendrick is excited to have the higher horsepower engines at MIS this weekend, saying speed is what makes the track special.
“I remember my first time in Michigan (in 2017) and watching a Cup car go into Turn 1 at 200mph. It’s unbelievable to watch,” Cendrick said. A car, it’s not just a machine.”
Cendrick remembers standing near the tunnel at the first turn, watching the drivers “pull the mail.”
“You can’t help but put a smile on your face,” Cendrick said.
Cendrick qualified fifth for Sunday’s race, which begins at 3 p.m. and is broadcast on USA Network. Here are the top 10 starters in racing.
- Bubba Wallace No. 23 Toyota
- Christopher Bell, No. 20 Toyota
- Kyle Bush, no. 18 Toyota
- Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford
- Austin Cendrick, No. 2 Ford
- Tyler Riddick, No. 8 Chevrolet
- Martin Truex Jr., #19 Toyota
- Kyle Larson, No. 5 Chevrolet
- Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota
- Eric Jones (Byron, Michigan original), No. 43 Chevrolet
Point leader Chase Elliott will start 13th, last year’s winner Ryan Blaney will start 24th and Rochester Hills’ Brad Keselowski will start 33rd.
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For an updated list of stories from MIS this weekend for this NASCAR race, visit: click here.