Is biding one's time now a bad idea in NASCAR's longest race?
MAY 23, 2014 10:52a ET
I think this year's Coca-Cola 600 raises a lot more questions going into it than we have answers for right now. In years past I think we would have seen a pretty quick start to the race. Then the drivers would get into that "pacing mode" we've seen so many times as they bide their time until that last 100 to 150 miles. Historically, we've seen that to be the point where the action and pace of the race starts really picking up as the laps wind down.
I think we can't discount that the new rules package for 2014 is going to change the equation somewhat on Sunday. The drivers can run so hard and so fast that there has to be some nervousness on the part of the crew chiefs and the engine folks.
There's no doubt this is going to be a quick race. Even though it is our longest race of the year with 600 miles being run, I truly believe we have an opportunity to break a record. The cars today just maintain speed so unbelievably well, even though they are going to be chasing an ever-changing racetrack. I just think all of us are going to see a race pace Sunday evening that is very surprising.
This is going to take some drivers way out of their comfort zones. There are some with the mindset of the past that once they get to say Mile 200 until Mile 400 or even Mile 450, that they get into a pace to save not only themselves, but their car for the stretch run. The problem for those drivers is going to be the drivers who take the different approach of going all-out full bore all race long. The driver wanting to pace himself might actually find himself being lapped.
If that happens, your strategy is forced to change to hoping for a miracle of Lucky Dog or wave-around so that you can get your lap back. The original strategy of simply getting to the end for a stretch run goes out the window when the desperation of getting back on the lead lap takes over.
So I think we are going to see some drivers on Sunday force other drivers race harder, all race long, than they would prefer. That's where the great unknown comes into play for the Coca-Cola 600. Is this forced pace set by some drivers going to cause more crashes? Are we going to see engines pushed beyond their limit and some drivers go up in a plume of smoke? Are parts and pieces on the race car, because they are pushed harder for a longer sustained time, going to break?
The answer is we don't know -- and that makes for a very intriguing storyline for everyone to follow on Sunday. This also might be a historical race in the sense that it might very well re-write the playbook for how these drivers, crew chiefs and teams approach and race a 600-mile event.