Upon Further Review: Tough decisions ahead

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After months of building cars, nights of analyzing data and hours preparing for all contingencies, Sunday’s Daytona 500 could come down to a simple decision for crew chiefs.

Do you want tires or do you want track position?

In recent years, the question was easy. You took track position because tires didn’t wear as much on a surface last repaved in 2010. Teams often changed no tires or two tires at most during the race. Only if the car was way off or the driver flat-spotted the tires trying to slow as they entered pit road did teams change four tires on a stop.

But just as the breeze brings the cool ocean air, there’s a change with Daytona International Speedway.

The 2.5-mile track is reawakening. It’s growing temperamental. The smooth repaved surface is starting to show its personality and make tires wear.

“The grip is just going away,’’ Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott said. “These racetracks that sit down here in Florida that bake in the sun all day long, where it stays warm all year, you know, it just puts a lot of age on the track.’’

The result is the cars are becoming more difficult to drive.

“Game planning for this place, the biggest part, I think, is … figuring out what our package needs to be handling-wise,’’ said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Clash winner Joey Logano. “This place is getting rougher and getting older. So handling comes back into play.’’

That’s only part of the issues for crew chiefs. The weather also could be a factor.

Sunday’s Clash was run under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s. Even then drivers noted how slick the track was.

Early forecasts call for sunny skies and slightly cooler conditions for the Daytona 500, but a warm front will bring temperatures into the low 80s the day before the race. Should that system slow and arrive on Sunday, it would make the day of the 500 one of the warmest in the last decade. That would make the track even more challenging for drivers.

“I was surprised at how slick it was (Sunday), and it’s going to be times 10 next Sunday,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said. “It will definitely be something that guys will be looking at.

“I think tires will be important, but track position, if you’re in the top three or four and can get single file … that’s the place to be. If you get shuffled out of that on old tires, you get in trouble. If you don’t have tires, you need to find a way to stay up front and that’s tough to do.’’

There’s another challenge for some teams. Although the Clash featured drivers in cars they won’t race in the Daytona 500, it seemed pretty clear that Team Penske, which won the last three restrictor-plate races last season, again is strong with Brad Keselowski and Logano. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars also were good running together and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was thrilled with the speed his new Ford had.

“It seems that Penske’s cars and even Stewart-Haas’ Ford stuff is really strong right now,’’ said Matt McCall, crew chief for Jamie McMurray. “I think to outrun those cars you’re going to have to have a little bit of strategy to stay in front of them, based off that (Clash) car.’’

By “strategy,” that means track position over tires.

“I’d minimize anything on pit road,’’ McCall said.

That’s another factor that could play into the race. If the race features hot and slick conditions, that could lead to numerous cautions. If the cautions are spread out evenly, handling might not matter as much as track position. Last year’s Daytona 500 had only one green-flag run of more than 35 laps. 

Harvick says it’s simple what a driver will want from his car.

“I think you’re going to want a little bit of both,’’ he said, referring to handling and tires. “If it’s a long run, you’re going to want tires. If it turns out to be a short run, I think you can hang on to it for 15 or 20 laps.’’

If only it was that simple for crew chiefs. After all the work by so many on the team and back at the shop, the winner of the Daytona 500 could be determined in a split-second call by a crew chief. Make the wrong call and the driver might not have a chance to win. Make the right call and it could lead to a cerebration unlike any other.

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NASCAR America: NASCAR’s stars hit the track for the ‘Little 600’ (video)

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Like more than three dozen of his NASCAR Cup counterparts, Joey Logano is gearing up for the longest race of the year, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To warm up, Logano, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr. and other NASCAR drivers headed to the GoPro Motorplex in North Carolina for the “Little 600.”

Check out how they fared in the above video that was on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America.

 

Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, marking the second consecutive race at Charlotte Motor Speedway he has led the field to the green flag.

Harvick, a two-time Coke 600 winner, earned the top starting spot Thursday night with a lap of 193.424 mph in his Ford. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race.

Chase Elliott starts third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Erik Jones.

Points leader Kyle Larson will start 39th in the 40-car field after not making a qualifying attempt. He hit the wall in practice and then his team couldn’t get through qualifying inspection until one minute remained in the opening round of the session. The team was unable to get Larson out of the garage in time to make an attempt.

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Slugger Labbe: How do crew chiefs prepare for grueling Coca-Cola 600? (video)

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Veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe stopped by the NASCAR America studio in Charlotte on Thursday.

Labbe gave his perspective on how NASCAR Cup crew chiefs will prepare for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. While the race length will be the same as it has been for decades, one significant change will have crew chiefs developing strategy that they’ve never had to deal with in the 600, namely, four different race stages.

Labbe also gave his take on the positives and negatives of the Laser Inspection Station for both pre- and post-race inspections.

Check out the above video.

NASCAR: Remembering Martin Truex Jr.’s dominating 2016 Coca-Cola 600 win

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In one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history, Martin Truex Jr. turned last year’s Coca-Cola 600 into a runaway one-man show, leading the field for 392 of 400 laps.

Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America took a look back at Truex’s record-setting win.

Check out the video above.