CORNELIUS, N.C., Monday, May 15, 2006 -- After 11 races, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes a little bit of a break this week. Oh, the cars are still on track, but the atmosphere is a little more laid back as teams prepare for the ...
CORNELIUS, N.C., Monday, May 15, 2006 -- After 11 races, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes a little bit of a break this week.
Oh, the cars are still on track, but the atmosphere is a little more laid back as teams prepare for the non-points-paying Nextel Open and Nextel All-Star Challenge on Saturday night, May 20 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The format is pretty simple, the winner of the 90-lap Nextel All-Star Challenge (made up of three segments consisting of 40, 30 and 20 laps), wins $1 million. The All-Star Challenge is open to drivers and owners who have won a race in 2005 or 2006, All-Star Challenge winners in the last 10 years or Nextel Cup champions from the past 10 years.
Tony Raines will try to get into the All-Star Challenge the old fashion way: By racing his way in. Raines, along with a handful of other drivers, will compete in the 30-lap Nextel Open. It consists of a 20-lap segment and a 10-lap sprint and the rules are pretty simple: Winner goes to the All-Star Challenge, everyone else goes home.
So what is the strategy for a new team with limited amount of cars and information? The simple answer is: "Try to win, of course."
However, consider that Hall of Fame Racing and the No. 96 DLP HDTV team are still building their fleet of cars, and also that NASCAR has limited testing to two-day sessions at Daytona, Las Vegas, Richmond, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Homestead.
Test sessions at tracks where races are actually held are few and far between, so Hall of Fame Racing, while still attempting to win the Open, will also use the 30-lap sprint race as a valuable test session for the Coca-Cola 600 one week later at Charlotte.
The Nextel Open compares to an NFL preseason game. Sure, teams want to win, but ultimately, they are trying to a) keep everyone healthy and b) learn some things that will help in the regular season.
TONY RAINES (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy):
Overall thoughts heading into the Nextel Open:
"Obviously it's a big event. It's a non-points race, so we're kind of using it as an extra test session. We're going to work on qualifying trim. We're going to just see where we end up. If we're really fast, and we can win the Open, then we're going to go for it. If we can't, with the position we're in right now, we don't need to be tearing up cars running fourth or fifth in the Open. That's just not smart. We're just going to go into with that mentality and use what's available, but at the same time using some common sense."
Being a new team and the fact that testing is limited to just six sessions a year, how important is that 30 laps?
"Depending on how you approach it, it can be real beneficial or a waste. We tested over there a couple of weeks ago and learned some stuff, and we're going to try to follow up on that. We'll get there and test a little more and see where we're at, because the week after that, you come back for one of the biggest races of the year, the '600,' so we certainly want to be ready for that race as best we can."
That said, like any other race, you still want to win the Open, correct?
"If we're in a position to win it, yeah, of course. You never know how that's going to play out, because every one seems to show up with their '30-lap special.' And if it plays out for us, then we'll go for it, but if not, we'll use our heads about the whole weekend."
What is the strategy with a 20-lap segment, followed by a 10-lap sprint?
"You certainly have to run hard, but you can be a little bit more aggressive with your car, set-up-wise. With a short run, you're a little bit more on the ragged edge, trying to be faster."
With a new surface at Charlotte and a hard tire compound, is this as close to an "even-playing field" as the No. 96 team will get all year, considering that nobody really has any notes from previous years that will apply?
"That's probably partially right. It's probably not 100 percent even, but the new surface and a new tire have certainly thrown some people for a loop. We need to use that to our advantage."
What do you think of the new surface and the hard tire compound?
"They did a good job with the track. They didn't change it totally. They took some bumps out of it, but they've still got the jump into (Turn) 1 and the little hump off of (Turn) 4, so that's similar. They (Goodyear) definitely brought a hard tire, and it's the same for everybody. It might make it difficult, and it might not, we'll just have to see how it works out. It's certainly no advantage or disadvantage for anybody."
Is it nice to be in Charlotte for two weeks in a row?
"I think so. I don't live that far from the track, so I'll sleep in my own bed. I'll have to fight traffic a little bit, but it's definitely two weeks in Charlotte."