It’s Memorial Day weekend, and that normally means it’s time for NASCAR’s longest, most grueling race with the largest change in track conditions: the Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR Raceday starts Sunday at 3:30pm EDT on SPEED, with race broadcast on FOX starting at 6pm EDT). Starting in the daylight and moving on into the night under the lights, the six hundred miles over the 1.5-mile quad-oval track is a true test of endurance for each driver (and perhaps an event that actually does prove that NASCAR drivers are truly athletes). You try sitting in a 110-degree plus race car for four hours without the ability to get out and take a break.
Before I get to my picks for Sunday’s race, I have to make a comment on this week’s speed demon, and I’m not talking about Brad Keselowski’s qualifying run. Kyle Busch was cited for doing 128 in a 45-mile zone earlier this week in Charlotte. You’ve got to be kidding me–128 miles an hour?!?!!? I know Rowdy has been reckless on the track, but come on. This is downright dangerous. There is NO excuse or reason for driving like this, regardless of whether or not the car is capable of handling those speeds. He apologized for his actions, and he said had a lapse in judgment. Personally, I don’t believe it. He should have thought about what he was about to do before he did it; he should be held to a higher standard specifically because racing is what he does for a living (I call it my “Jurassic Park” comment: Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD). While I do think Kyle needs to receive some kind of punishment for this heinous breaking of the law, I’m not sure if NASCAR itself is wrong if they decide to not sanction the younger Busch because of this, but I’ll bet that team owner Joe Gibbs (yes, the former Washington Redskins coach) is furious. Wouldn’t it be ironic if one of the best drivers in NASCAR had his drivers’ license suspended or revoked? Stay tuned for when he has his court date.
So as the sun shines and the swimming pool is calling my name, I’ll get my picks put together, grab a cool beverage, and enjoy my weekend until it’s race time.
Best Bets: Carl Edwards (#99 Scotts EZ Seed Ford)- Carl is poised for a good run this weekend. He qualified third, and ran second in the first practice session (running thirteenth in final practice). Carl still has yet to win a points race at Charlotte (as I’ve posted before), but he has four top-fives and seven top-tens, plus seventeen wins at intermediate tracks. Oh yeah, not to mention he did win the NASCAR All Star Race (one of my picks last week). Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Summer Salute Chevy)- Almost a natural pick, Jimmie and his crew chief Chad Knaus have won here at Charlotte six times with an average finish in the top-ten; he qualified sixth and although he’s only in the top-twenty during practice, these two have a knack of putting a lot of adjustability into their race cars…don’t be surprised to see ol’ Five Time running up front.
Probables: Kasey Kahne (#4 Red Bull Toyota)- Kasey had some game last week until an accident took him out of the running; if he can maintain the endurance required to finish well in this race, he’s got a good shot at a win…he has three wins, five top-fives and seven top-tens at Charlotte, and although he rolls off 17th, he ran fifth fastest in practice #2. Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Express Toyota)- Another driver winless at Charlotte, Denny has a top-five and four top-tens here; fourth fastest in practice #2 and rolling off fourth when the Green Flag waves, he’s got his mojo moving in the right direction.
Dark Horses: AJ Allmendinger (#43 U.S. Air Force Ford)- Dinger has been making steady progress this year, breathing some life back into Richard Petty Motorsports’ flagship team; he’s only got two top-ten finishes so far, but currently is sitting on the outside of the front row for tonight’s race, and has been running reasonably well in practice Saturday (7th in practice)…AJ’s been fighting a tight race car all through practice, so we’ll see what comes of it. Paul Menard (#27 Menards Chevy)- This RCR team has been running fast in practice; Menard has a chance to get his first win here at Charlotte…ran first in practice #2, and has two top-fives and eight top-tens at intermediate tracks (two top-fives and three top-tens just this season alone), so he might have some smash going into this race.
Shout-outs: Since this is Memorial Day weekend, I’m giving a shout-out to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman for their contributions to defending and maintaining the freedoms that every American enjoys. In addition, I’m also thanking the #39, 43 and 88 teams’ sponsors: US Army, US Air Force, and National Guard respectively. Their support for NASCAR is not just a valuable recruiting tool, but also helps to ensure NASCAR’s continued success, even in these tough economic times.
Tech Talk: This week we’re talking a little about track conditions, and how that changes handling. Particularly of note, based on how the track at Charlotte will change over the course of the race. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, rain tends to wash away rubber deposits from the track and create a “green track” condition, where tire wear may be a little great, but also there is a lot more grip. This weekend at Charlotte, rain showers yesterday “greened up” the track, so a lot of the debris that can be generated around the track had been washed away. Expect the Nationwide race to have cars handle a little differently because of it, and unless there is rain tonight in Charlotte, the track should be decent for tomorrow’s Coke 600.
One huge variable in the Coca Cola 600, as with races that start in the daytime heat and end up running into darkness (whether due to weather, wrecks, or the like), is the fact that the track temperature can vary greatly from Green flag to Checkered flag, so as the sun goes down, the track cools down. The heat can tend to make cars “loose”, which means as the cars go around the turns the rear of the car tends to lose grip and swing towards the wall, thereby either causing a spin or handling difficulties at a minimum. When a driver reports his car is “tight,” that means the rear end is holding itself too much and is difficult to turn correctly. There are things that crew chiefs can do to compensate for these changes in track condition, whether changing the tire pressure, making a track bar adjustment (the wrench that goes into the rear window on a pit stop), or putting pieces of rubber into the car’s springs. Look for more handling Tech Talk next week!