It seems like we hear crew chiefs at every stop on the Sprint Cup schedule telling their drivers, to “try and save a little fuel.” That is something that is hard for all of us to accomplish, let alone a driver that is driving over 180 miles per hour while being chased by 42 other drivers.
Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, we heard more than one crew chief come over the headset to tell his driver that he needed to try and save some fuel. Crew chiefs like to have a strategy of when they want to pit so that their driver will not have to worry during the closing laps about the possibility of running out of fuel within eyesight of the checkered flag. Having that strategy play out in a 500-mile race, let alone the 600 miles that Charlotte demanded, is nothing more than a role of the dice that, for many, did not play out like they wanted.
Crew chiefs had to deal with 14 caution flags for a total of 64 laps that also added into their ever-changing strategy. As was the case at every other stop on the schedule, track position turned out to be everything, forcing some crew chiefs to stay out during cautions to give their drivers the much-needed track position while others chose to come in and adjust on their cars.
As it turned out it was just one of those races that, even though it did have plenty of cautions, they didn’t come at the right time at the end of the race. It also didn’t help crew chiefs any when the race ended with a green-white-checkered finish, which actually pushed the distance past the 600-mile length, making it the longest race in the history of Sprint Cup racing.
Driver after driver had to come down pit lane for fuel on the caution laps leading to the finish, but Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., sitting in first and second, took the chance. They finally had the track position to run for the win and were not going to give it up.
Immediately on that last restart, Kahne ran out of fuel. That caused him to slow and in the process started stacking up the field, forcing Jeff Burton to spin. While this was taking place Dale Jr. took over the lead and appeared to be on his way to victory lane as he immediately stretched out his lead. You could see the ‘Junior Nation’ get on their feet in anticipation of his first win of the season, only to have their dream shattered as his #88 Chevrolet began to sputter as he entered the final two turns of the race.
Junior coasted to a seventhplace finish in a car that he admitted afterwards wasn’t really good enough to win, but that is what fuel mileage races can do. It can put a car in victory lane that wasn’t close to being one of the best cars of the race or it can keep the best cars from taking the checkered flag.
Kevin Harvick, as it turned out, was the driver who crawled out of his car in victory lane as he inherited the lead when Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel. Harvick was far from being one of the best cars in the field on Sunday night, but he and his team put themselves in a position to win on that last restart and more importantly, they had the fuel to make it to the checkered flag.
Harvick’s car was said to be running on nothing more than fumes as it crossed the finish line, which points back to something that happened during the final caution laps of the night before the final restart. Harvick was being pushed during caution laps by his Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard. The three cars lined up bumper to bumper with Menard in the rear pushing his teammates. It was perfectly legal and it did allow Harvick to save some fuel, just how much we will never know, but we do know it was more than enough for him to celebrate his third win of the season.
PIT NOTES: STP will be getting back into racing this weekend at Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway with a unique split sponsorship. Saturday night it will be the STP 300 Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway followed by the STP 400 Sprint Cup race on Sunday at Kansas. STP will also be the sponsor of Richard Petty’s #43 Ford Fusion driven by A.J. Allmendinger at Kansas, painted in the original STP paint scheme that was used by Petty in 1972.
Race Preview Event: STP 400 Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval, 15 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: June 5, 1:15 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: MRN Defending Champion: New event