In tonight’s Coca Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the drivers who are more able to keep up with the changes the track will go through in the transition from evening to night time, will stand the best chances of driving to Victory Lane. To win Nascar’s longest race of the season, one will have to pay as much attention to the track conditions as his or her rear view mirror.
With the record heat and humidity in the Concord, North Carolina area this year, the task will be even more demanding. As the Green Flag drops around 5:30 PM, the track will start out very loose, and begin a gradual tightening as the race proceeds into the evening. When the sun finally sets and they are under the lights, the track will tighten up considerably.
The drivers will have to continually monitor the handling of their race cars, and report these changes to crew chiefs, who will have to modify the chassis set ups and tire pressures to keep their drivers competitive on the track. Drivers who are late in recognizing handling problems can get behind early, and put their team in a hole they can’t get out of.
The History 300 that ran on Saturday did not provide much feedback to Rookies, as it finished before sundown. The All Star race last Saturday started and finished under the lights, thus not revealing secrets to what the transition will be like tonight. The onus will be entirely on the driver/crew chief team, and their ability to adapt.
The Coca Cola 600 started out in 1960, and for the first 24 years was known as the World 600. It was designed to be a 600 mile event to compete on Memorial Day with the Indianapolis 500. The auto manufacturers jumped on board to show the world how their cars could hold up on a race of this length.
Lights were installed in 1992 and the track owners, wanting to capture the magic of The Winston, and responding to fans who were tired of the heat, moved the race to a Night event. They tinkered with the start times, and settled on 5:30 to apease Fox Television’s request to be finished in time for their 10PM news broadcast.
Once the start time was set, the folks at Indianapolis agreed to start the Indy 500 at 11 AM so that drivers competing in both races would have time to make the commute back to Charlotte in time for the Green Flag. This hasn’t been necessary for the past few years, so the Indy 500 has moved back to a noon start.
Jimmie Johnson and the Lowes Chevrolet team is one of the best in the business at making adjustments on the track. Jimmie has a firm grasp on his car’s performance and, Chad Knaus seems to always know what he needs to do, to keep his driver happy. I don’t look for anything different tonight. With the #48 Team hitting on all eight right now, and with Victories at Darlington and last weeks All Star race, I think they are the team to beat.
Look for challenges from his Hendrick Motorsports teammates however. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon are always a threat at Charlotte. This of course, is barring more Bad Luck for the #24 team. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tends to have trouble with fast changing track conditions, and I don’t look for him in Victory Lane tonight. In 13 starts in the Coke 600, his average finish is 19.5, and his highest finish being a 4th place finish. He finished 3rd in a fall race, but has never won a full length race here.
Danica Patrick finished 13th in the History 300 on Saturday afternoon. With the top four positions going to Cup drivers, I view it as almost a 9th place finish. She rolls off in the 40th position tonight, and I don’t look for much out of her. Hopefully she will get what she need the most, laps in her Go Daddy Chevrolet on a difficult track, and not get wrecked out early.
Enjoy the race, and be sure to remember the Heroes who died so you could enjoy this Great Holiday and Great Race!
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