Day to night: Coke 600 as much about adjustability as speed
Last Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race began and ended after the sun went down. This weekend's 600-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be a different story as teams must adapt to changing track conditions.
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway begins in the day and ends at night.
Streeter Lecka / Getty Images
By Larry McReynolds
Last Saturday night under the lights we ran our shortest race of the year with the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race. Now this Sunday we are running our longest race of the year with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. They are definitely two different types of races.
I was very fortunate in my career as a crew chief to participate in both. I am also much honored to say we are only one of seven teams in NASCAR history to have won the all-star race and then come back the next week to win the Coca-Cola 600.
Whether you ran poorly or ran well last Saturday night, you were at least able to put some notes in your notebook for Sunday's race. You've made notes on things to do and, probably even more importantly, things not to do. The racing last Saturday was all about performing in short runs. Remember, the longest stretch the drivers saw Saturday night was only 20-lap segments.
We know Sunday in the Coca Cola 600 that a fuel run will be anywhere from 44 to 48 laps. History from the Coca-Cola 600 also tells us we will have some long green flag runs and some green flag pit stops throughout the longest race of the year. So my point is we are going to see runs that are at a minimum double the length of what these drivers experienced last Saturday night.
The other big difference between the Coca-Cola 600 and the all-star race is the weather conditions. Last Saturday night they started, ran and finished the race all at night. This Sunday we will start the race in broad daylight. We then will have the transition from afternoon to dusk. Then we will transition from dusk to nighttime racing, and the checkered flag won't wave until sometime around 11 p.m.
So knowing that, you have to have a lot of adjustability in your race car. Keeping up with the racetrack Sunday is what you'll probably have to work on the most. They will have two practice sessions on Saturday which is great, but they won't be in any way, shape or form the conditions the drivers will be facing for the majority of the race on Sunday.
I go back again to 1991 which was run during the day. Even then we saw the racetrack change so much during the course of the race. We were sitting out there with a healthy lead and we still had to make adjustments on our car because of the changing conditions on the track.
I think your all-time winners of the Coca-Cola 600 -- NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson -- all recognized and accepted that they and the team had to be ready to adjust on that race car even though they might be leading the race. Again, the team that is aggressive with keeping up with the changes that the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway throws at them all afternoon and evening on Sunday is going to come out on top.