So we run a short fast race this weekend with no points on the line but an awful lot of money for the winner up for grabs. Then next Sunday afternoon we run the longest race of the entire season. Both races are on the same track — Charlotte Motor Speedway — and only separated by the calendar.
If you have done your homework correctly, you treat them individually just like any other race on the calendar. With the Sprint All-Star Race, you don’t always have to be spot on with your car and you can throw caution to the wind to a certain degree because the race is broken up into segments. Saturday night you are going to be looking for all the speed you can get out of your car.
Now, in next Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, that’s a whole different can of worms. You have to keep up with track and the transitions it will go through. We start the race during the day. Then we go through a transition with the sun going down as we head into the evening. Then we have the other transition of basically dusk into the night. The driver, crew chief and team that can keep ahead or even just keep up with what the track is going to do to their car are going to be way ahead of the game.
Sure, you have 600 miles to figure it out, but you also have to worry about whether the car and, more specifically, the engine will make it that long. We run a number of 500-mile events during the year; however, this is a 600-mile race. Those last 100 miles are where you see things start to happen.
The driver and the team have to pace themselves. It’s a very long race. They can’t be using up all their energy right at the start. See, it’s the complete opposite Saturday night for the all-star race. The reality is you are comparing a sprint race to a marathon. Saturday night will be all about fast car and fast pit crew. When that driver slides down into the seat Saturday night, all you want him thinking about is the money.
Which race is tougher to win? That’s a really good question. The all-star race is tailor-made for certain drivers over others. They can get up on the wheel and put down blistering fast laps in those short segments.
Darrell Waltrip was the perfect example of a driver built for the Coca-Cola 600. He was really good at pacing himself and the car. He would save the engine, save the tires, save the car, etc., so when that last 100 miles came around, like a marathon runner, he had a little kick left in the tank.
It’s no coincidence that he has won more Coca-Cola 600 races than any driver in NASCAR history.