Drivers return to Charlotte, but much is different this week
What is unique to me in these two weeks of racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, that maybe a lot of folks don’t realize, we go from the All-Star Race, which is really short to Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, which is our longest race of the year. So there are two different race lengths at the same track only a week apart.
I still believe teams learned a lot from the All-Star Race that can translate to changes on their 600 car. I think one of the big things the teams learned is about the new left-side tires Goodyear brought to the track. Now the right-side tire is the same compound teams used in 2009. This left-side tire, however, is new and it has a lot of grip.
That is really going to come into play Sunday after the track cools down when the race progresses into evening. In addition to gaining grip, the tire also doesn’t give up a lot. There is no better example of this than Greg Biffle's run. He ran the entire Showdown race, finished second and never changed his tires during the entire 40 laps. Jimmie Johnson was another one in the All-Star Race that really only changed four tires when it was required by the race rules.
You have to believe that all the teams watched what the tires did during those two races and will make note of that for Sunday’s race. I think this will lead to a lot of different strategies and agendas this weekend. Where this will be most critical, in my opinion, will be late in the race when track position will be so critical.
What’s interesting, if you remember, is there was a test at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in March. It was a day and a half test, but all the sessions were during the day. There was no nighttime testing. This week is no different. Thursday practice is during the day. The track is closed Friday and the Saturday practices are during the day as well.
Now we go to 22 different race tracks during the NASCAR Cup schedule. As we have told you year after year, there is no track more temperature-sensitive than Charlotte Motor Speedway. That has always been the case for years and years and years.
From a mechanical durability standpoint you certainly are on pins and needles for the 600 mile race here on Sunday than you are for the 500 mile race here in October. What you may not realize is during that last 100 miles of the 600, that’s when your speeds will be at their highest. The reason is as I mentioned earlier, the track has cooled down and gained grip. That’s when you seen the rpm’s on the engines pickup.
This is one of those races where the folks that bite their fingernails the most are the engine builders. They will be the ones on Thursday and Saturday who will be looking over the crew chiefs shoulders monitoring how many laps they put on those race engines. Once again it’s because they will be asking 100 more miles out of those engines than they ask anywhere else on the circuit.
The pit crews are going to make a lot of pit stops come Sunday. With the added 100 miles that can add anywhere to two or three more stops into the mix. So you are asking a lot more from your pit crew on what has been historically a very hot and sticky night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.