NASCAR teams face tough stretch

BY Jeff Hammond • May 18, 2011

These next two weeks, in my book, are the craziest two weeks of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Teams realize they are one-third of the way through the season. They are evaluating where their program is. There is the Pit Crew Challenge this week. While you are building a notebook to use in next week’s longest race of the season, you are still trying to finish first this Saturday because it pays $1 million to the winner.

So the role of the crew chief is to try to maintain a level of sanity over all the insanity. The teams and drivers get to spend two weeks at home and that’s a really good thing.

The downside is the drivers are being pulled in a million different directions by friends, family and sponsors wanting access to them. It just gets so busy that at times you have to stop and remember that you have two very important races in Charlotte. So you still have to do your job.

Time management is the key. It’s easy to get distracted and for folks to get frustrated. Because of all that, it would be very easy to make mistakes. The other key is preparation. You want to have your cars done and a plan laid out for these next two weeks.

Again, Saturday night under the lights features $1 million to the winner of the Sprint All-Star race. There are no points involved in this race. Some teams will experiment in hopes of finding something that will help them the next Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600.

The crew chief will talk to the engineers and the engine builders about what the goals are for this race that could benefit next weekend’s race.

So all the teams will come into the Sprint All-Star race with a plan knowing, however, that they need to be able to adapt on the fly. Until the car is on the track, you simply don’t know if what you’ve come up with is what you are looking for.

Driver feedback on what the car is doing will be crucial. That first practice after lunch on Friday will set the tempo of how things are going.

Now, in addition to winning the big money Saturday night, teams will be aggressively accumulating data. This will help them with decisions they need to make on the car for the Coca-Cola 600 next week.

That is our longest race of the year. It starts in the early evening while it is still light, but ends late in the evening. So in some aspects, racing under the lights this weekend becomes an important test for racing under the lights next weekend.

Being in the all-star event gives teams an advantage over the ones that aren’t in it. You get a good idea of what to expect and what the track will be like the following week.

Honestly, it is a tough two weeks. Just the schedule alone is different than the teams experience when they are on the road.

Trust me, after these next two weeks are completed, there will be a lot of guys and gals ready to get back on the road and head to Kansas City.


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