Nascar at Charlotte: It’s Chase Race #5 and Those Driving To Stay Alive

Rusty NormanThis is the last night race for the 2010 NASCAR Cup season and some of the top twelve are absolutely driving to stay alive in the Chase. This is the midpoint of the Chase, and unfortunately, some may have already crossed over the line (or point of no return) and some are on the edge, but after this weekend more of those racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will not have another chance at competing for it until next year.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a very sensitive track when it comes to track temperature and in this fan’s opinion, should make this night race a bit more interesting than maybe it would be in the daytime. The reason I say this is because of the challenge it gives to the engineers and crew chiefs by pressing them to work with unknowns.

The practice sessions don’t fall at the same time as the end of the race. The track temperature, even though they have practiced into the early evening, can be up to twenty degrees different from the time they start the race to when they finish it. This means they don’t actually see what they will have to work with by the end of the race and it is “best guess” when it comes to being ready to work with the setups.

So, does this mean they are completely in the dark when it comes to the late race setup changes? No, it just means they have to use “all” of their input to come up with their “best guess” and if they blow it, it is almost a given their team will struggle all night. It also means the crew chiefs will have to listen to a frustrated driver for most of the race and that will make their night even more stressful.

I have to wonder if this will finally be the race that someone other than an actual Chaser wins. During the practice sessions, several cars were fast and even a quick look at qualifying  shows some outside the Chase as capable of putting up very fast times. Of course, once again, I have to mention the Roush/Fenway teams, too. The Richard Petty Motorsports teams qualified well and the Roush/Fenway teams of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle looked awfully strong in the final practice.

Another thing I take into consideration is this is a 500 mile race. That extra 100 miles means a little more time for things to either go better, or worse, for the competitors. The first races in the Chase are a little shorter and this race could do more to help those that don’t quite get it going until the later stages of the race.

Ones to watch tonight in the Bank of America 500 are mixed inside and outside the top twelve Chasers. I’m thinking a couple of those outside the top twelve are AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Newman.  They have been running strong, or at least showing a lot of strength in the last several races. Allmendinger qualified third and Newman eleventh. Kyle Bush is another that could end up in Victory Lane by the end of the night and appeared to be pretty happy with his car by the end of final practice. His brother, Kurt is another looking to make a statement tonight and he looked impressive even after a dust up with the wall during practice.

Jeff Gordon had a great qualifying run and starts on the pole. I’m not sure whether they just didn’t want to show what they really have or whether they really were struggling in all of the practice sessions; (I reckon we’re going to have to wait and see how the #24 team’s night pans out.

Carl Edwards qualified second and showed he could still run fast in the final practice. The problem with running the fastest time in a practice session and running the fastest laps consistently during runs in a session  is the two don’t usually add up to a victory at the end of the night. Fastest for one lap is good; fastest for an entire fuel and tire run is much better and generally puts that driver and team at, or near the front at the end of the race.

I’m still a believer that qualifying says very little about how someone will perform during the actual race and from my observations, there hasn’t been that much advantage going to those that qualified up front over the last few races. It has proven out that the ones that qualified on the front rows, especially those outside the Chase, haven’t necessarily faired that well in the final results.

This being Charlotte and track position being so important, it is possible that having better pit stalls could make a difference at the end of the night. I guess it will depend on whether or not there are late race cautions and how they fall.

The biggest game changer all season has been the double file restarts. The strategies at the end of the race have become even more important because of them. The decision of how many tires to take and full or partial fueling can make a big difference in how the teams lineup for those restarts and it becomes even more complicated when you add in the possibilities of up to three green-white-checkered finishes, especially at Charlotte in the fall on a Saturday night…

Hey, I’m just sayin’…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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