So, Sunday is all about durability. We know we are asking 100 more miles out of everything — our car, our driver and our pit crew. The thing I got asked a lot was did I ever approach it any different than the other races. The answer always was no.
I was very fortunate to be the crew chief for one of those seven drivers that won the All-Star race and turned right around and won the Coca Cola 600. I did that with Davey Allison in 1991.
Stop and think about Darlington a second. It takes 367 laps to run the Southern 500 like we saw a couple Saturday nights ago. So when it comes to running the Coca Cola 600, you are only talking about running an additional 33 laps to make up the 400 laps Sunday night.
Where it gets really grueling is for those guys who run double-duty this weekend. For those drivers who are running the Nationwide race on Saturday, that starts your weekend off with 300 miles. Now add in 600 miles on Sunday and that makes for a long 600 miles.
Finishing all 600 miles isn’t quite the feat it used to be. The cars are better. The drivers’ conditioning is better. Back in the day if you finished all 400 laps of our longest race of the year, you would probably find yourself in the top five or top 10 of the finishing order.
Now this Sunday night we probably will have anywhere from 15 to 22 drivers finishing on the lead lap. These days there are just so many ways to get back on the lead lap. Back in the day, the only way you could un-lap yourself was to pass the leader and basically take your lap back.
These days in NASCAR we have free passes, Lucky Dogs and the wave-arounds. That’s in addition to simply passing the leader and getting your lap back. I expect we’ll see a combination of yellow flags and long green runs Sunday afternoon and evening.
The smaller organizations are the ones that I think will get stretched to the limit in a long race like we will have Sunday night. I think of Kurt Busch, Regan Smith and to a certain extent the two Richard Petty Motorsports teams. Unfortunately, as we saw in Darlington two weeks ago, with his small team, Kurt was constantly battling bad pit stops that were putting him behind all the time.
In this day and age, you simply can’t lose spots due to bad pit stops. You can’t have those kinds of mistakes. This is where the bigger, better-financed teams shine. I am talking about teams like Roush-Fenway Racing or the Hendrick teams. They just don’t seem to have a weak link in the chain. That’s why a long race like we’ll have Sunday night will allow them to shine and the smaller under-financed teams will struggle.