Column: A 1,100 mile day

Published 2:02 pm Saturday, May 27, 2006

By Staff
I always look forward to the Sunday of Memorial weekend with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve. This is the day that true race fans embrace as the best day of the racing season, for on this day there are 1,100 miles of racing to be watched on two different tracks with two completely different types of racecars. I am talking about the Indianapolis 500, questionably the greatest spectacle in racing, and the Coca Cola 600, the most grueling race on the NASCAR schedule.
Now I must admit that since Tony George started the Indy Racing League and split from the CART Indy car series the quality of racing action at Indianapolis lacks the brilliance of years gone by when Unser, Foyt, Johncock and Mears raced there but the Indy 500 is still a great race. Granted the names aren't nearly as famous, but the race always seems to have moments of suspense, excitement, and broken dreams of victory.
The field of 33 cars was barely filled last weekend and it took the return of Al Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti from retirement to complete the lineup. Danica Patrrick is a crowd favorite to win and become the first woman to win the 500 but the Penske car of Sam Hornish Jr. has been lightning fast the entire month of May.
The Coca Cola 600 is unique in that it starts in the daylight and ends late into the dark of night. This race isn't always about being the fastest car on the track but being able to take care of your car through 600 miles. The driver that can stay out of trouble and have a crew chief that can make the right adjustments to keep up with the always changing track conditions will have a very good chance of visiting victory lane. There will be a lot of differences between this 600 and those of the years gone by.
Last year, the race saw a record number of caution flags brought out by dozens of blown tires that could not withstand the punishment of a track that had been modified in attempts to eliminate bumps in the pavement. This year, the NASCAR boys will have a freshly paved track that is lightning fast and will be using tires that are hard as a rock.
GoodYear has chosen this tire to try and eliminate the blowouts that turned the 43 car field into scrap metal last year. NASCAR has also implemented a 14 gallon fuel cell instead of the normal 22 gallons with the intention of forcing teams to change tires more often thus reducing the risk of blown tires even further.
I think the changes will help the problem, but don't look for many passes for the lead on the track because the reduced grip of the tires will make the cars more dependent on aerodynamics thus putting the car out front at a big advantage. With this in mind, the winner of this race is likely to be the driver that has a pit crew that performs flawlessly all night and makes lightning fast pit stops.
Jimmie Johnson has won the last three Coke 600's, and 7 of the last 10 races run at the track that shares the name on the side of his car, Lowes. But there are 42 other cars out there and they are not going to let him get a win easily.
So race fans enjoy the day on Sunday but don't forget to take a moment and remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives defending our nation ensuring we have the opportunity to witness two great auto races.