The Memorial Day Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is all about staying within striking distance for the length of a normal race and yet not showing all you have and saving enough for the last 100 miles. It is definitely an endurance race for both fans and drivers. It will definitely not have the excitement of last weeks Shootout and All Star races all the way through, but will, barring any great unforeseens, see many of the same drivers and a few others going for the checkers with everything they’ve got at the end of the race.
Last week it was all about the money… This week, it’s more about the miles than the money, (although I’m sure the money will matter after the race is over.) Last week, Kurt Bush left the track with over a million dollars and hardly fatigued at all. It was like a Saturday night special race at a local track with several short segments, a lot of excitement from beginning to end and the winner taking home a large paycheck. This week will be about who can outlast the rest of the field for 500 miles and have enough left to drive an extra 100 miles without mistakes or problems (and outlast the rest of the field to take it to Victory Lane.)
So what does this fan think the race tonight is going to be like? Well, that’s a great question and I’m really glad you asked… The 600 is a unique race. Not only is it the longest race in NASCAR racing, but it is a race that starts in the sunshine and heat of late afternoon and finishes in the cool of the night. That means there is a high possibility that someone who is running good early in the race may not be running so well at the end. It also means that how fast a car qualifies or how fast it ran in the practice sessions could have absolutely no bearing at all on how it finishes.
I don’t know about you, but from my observations of the practice sessions in particular, I saw several drivers practicing running up near the wall all a round the track. That appears to be one of the most noticeable changes with the tire compound Goodyear brought this year. The best line in past races appeared to be down near the white line at the bottom of the track. I have wondered since the All Star race if that wasn’t a safety measure some drivers tried to institute to minimize the damage should they get into the wall. It didn’t appear that Kurt Bush’s two run-ins with the wall kept him from winning the million dollars, but Jeff Gordon’s hard brush with the wall early on caused him to struggle all night.
I don’t know if this is a strategy or not, but I do know it isn’t the first time someone has run that upper line simply because they knew they had a car that wasn’t handling as well as they thought it should. The closer to the wall, the less the damage there could be if a car gets away from the driver just a little bit. I noticed Greg Biffle trying that line in the last practice session and it appeared it was working quite well for him.
Of all the teams I actually paid attention to in the practice sessions, it did appear the Roush Fords were the ones looking for more speed. It seemed they just couldn’t run as fast as the others. I expect they may be in the hunt at the end, but I think their night could be quite a struggle, at least at the beginning, until they (hopefully) get their cars dialed in.
Since this is a longer race than the norm, I expect to see some engine failures to take out some of the possible winners. This could be the night that Michael Waltrip Racing breaks into the win column again, but I am concerned with some things that have happened to them recently. We saw David Reutimann running well in recent races only to be taken out by engine failure. Martin Truex Jr. had great speed in the final practice but wasn’t very happy with his car near the end of it. It does beg the question, (at least in my mind), do the Toyota engines at MWR have what it takes to go 600 miles and finish up front? That is one question I don’t think will be answered until the end of the race.
The Coca-Cola 600 is another race that is hard for me to make the call on who the winner will be. If I were a smart person I probably wouldn’t even try, but then, I always have liked a challenge.
Kurt Bush’s #2 Penske Dodge has looked awfully strong over the last two weekends (and especially since Steve Addington became his crew chief.) I think he has a chance to win tonight, but he’s not the only one I want to mention.
Even though it appeared the Hendrick teams struggled during the All Star race and getting ready for tonight, I don’t think they can be counted out for being around at the end when it counts. I fully expect Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and maybe even Mark Martin to be right up there at the end of the 600 miles. (Uh, did you notice that Ryan Newman was starting on the pole… in Hendrick equipment?)
Of course, there is no reason to deny the momentum the JGR teams have going into tonight. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush are both coming into tonight’s race with great chances to pull off the victory (and a bit of a grudge being held between the two of them.) I think it will be interesting to see what happens if the two of them are running for the win at the end and Denny has to decide whether to use the “gas pedal or the brake” with Kyle ahead of him. Considering what has been said between them in front of the press, I have a feeling more sparks could fly.
So tell me, did I pick a winner, yet? Your right, I didn’t…
See ya next time… Rusty
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© May 30, 2010 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com
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