HAMMOND: 600-Mile Race Will Tax Drivers, Equipment

Obviously the teams that ran the NASCAR Sprint Showdown, and especially those that ran into the evening in the Sprint All-Star Race, had something to go back to the shop to look at, analyze and work on. I believe it will give them a better insight of what they need to bring back to the track this weekend at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.

Obviously this weekend, compared to last weekend, is a totally different animal. Last weekend was about short, quick 20-lap runs maybe combined with a little bit of strategy. This weekend is all about a marathon-type race. It’s our longest race of the year.

The benefit to last Saturday’s event was it gave the teams a better idea of what the car wants from a setup with the tires and the changes the track will experience from the start of the race in the heat of day to ending late in the evening.

We’re running the same tire we ran in 2012 here but remember that the track surface is now a year older. Also don’t forget that we have this new Generation-6 car that will also go through its first-ever test in our longest event on the schedule. We’re seeing not only higher speeds but more consistent lap times.

I also think we are going to see the track widen out more for the Coca-Cola 600. Obviously we will have almost twice as many cars on the track as there were last Saturday night and we should expect to see drivers running in the higher groove more than they were during the Sprint All-Star Race.

Saturday night in the All-Star race, the drivers knew that they would have 20 lap runs and then a caution. They knew when the breaks in the action were coming.

They won’t have that luxury on Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600.

I expect we will see a lot of green-flag runs Sunday afternoon and evening. They could be running 90-100 miles at a time before they come down pit road.

That can be grueling.

We always have liked to say this race separates the men from the boys and I think there is a lot of truth to that. We’re going to see the guys that can run fast for a short time versus the guys that are ready to pace themselves for this long race.

Trust me, this includes the crews and crew chiefs. If they aren’t mentally prepared and have a game plan in place and execute it accordingly, they won’t be a factor at the end of a really long day. If you look back to 2012, everyone looked to Jimmie Johnson to be the man to beat in the 600 following his dominating All-Star race win.

That didn’t happen. He wound up finishing 11th.

This from the guy who in the early 2000s had dominated Charlotte. Now a number of years have gone by since Jimmie won the Coca-Cola 600. The racetrack has changed since the repave and now you have to factor in the new Gen-6 car.

Is he the odds-on-favorite again this weekend? He sure is, but after what happened last year, you maybe have to look at some other drivers to be contenders for the win.

Again, this is an endurance race and we’ve seen our share of surprise winners. Maybe it will be a Jamie McMurray, or a Martin Truex Jr. or maybe even a wily old veteran like Mark Martin who will pull into Victory Lane late Sunday night.

This is always a very interesting race because it goes through about three cycles. Guys early on that you swear are going to win because of their dominance fall by the wayside and aren’t players at the end. Then there is that middle period when other guys seem to get their car right and they run up front for a while.

Then when we get down to that last 100 miles, there are guys who get their cars dialed in just right. They come to the front and we might not have mentioned them hardly at all during the broadcast, but there they are leading the field.

We also have to consider the potential for engine failure after that long of a run because remember, with the lighter weight and more downforce, these cars will be going faster than ever before at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So how will these engines hold up after being asked to give up more RPM’s for a longer period of time?

So I wouldn’t be surprised to see mechanical failure come into play as well as driver fatigue.

That last 100 miles is what separates these teams out.

It’s hard on man and machine.

It really is an endurance race. This easily is one of the toughest races these drivers will experience all season long. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all plays out.