Charlotte: Tony Raines preview

TONY RAINES 600 Miles, 400 Laps, 1,600 Left Hand Turns -- Family Fun For All! CORNELIUS, N.C., (May 22, 2007) -- The Super Bowl adds a fifth quarter. The World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals are now best five-out-of-nine instead of ...

TONY RAINES
600 Miles, 400 Laps, 1,600 Left Hand Turns -- Family Fun For All!

CORNELIUS, N.C., (May 22, 2007) -- The Super Bowl adds a fifth quarter. The World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals are now best five-out-of-nine instead of seven. The Masters is now five rounds instead of four.

Such is the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

Instead of the usual 300-, 400- or 500-mile events that are common on the 36-race Nextel Cup schedule, the Coca-Cola 600 is 400 laps around the 1.5-mile oval for a staggering distance of 600 miles.

And it takes a good, long while to finish.

In fact, the 2005 edition, which featured 22 cautions, took 5 hours, 13 minutes and 52 seconds.

So everyone from the driver and crew chief all the way to the spotter at the top of the grandstands have to prepare mentally and physically for the longest race of the season.

Tony Raines, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing, and crew chief Brandon Thomas are preparing to improve on their seventh-place finish in the Bank of America 500 last fall at Charlotte. Raines led a career-high three times for 28 laps for his best finish of the 2006 season.

Perhaps with 100 miles extra to work with this weekend, Raines can gain those six spots -- and his first Nextel Cup Series victory.

TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

What did you learn after 40 laps in last Saturday's Nextel Open non-points event at Charlotte?

"The track changes drastically on this tire, relative to temperature, more so than in the past, it seems like. In the afternoon sun, the track is treacherously slick, treacherously loose. As it cooled off (Saturday), it gained a lot of grip and we were just too tight, as a lot of guys were. You're going to have to trust your experience from the last two weeks as far as putting the car right where it needs to be at a certain time. It's going to be a fine line. The right-side tires are the same as last fall. The left-side tires are hard, like we ran in the first race last year. They changed the left sides for the fall when we ran pretty well. We weren't bad in the (2006) spring race. I remember it being pretty slick in the spring, but what was really odd is the test (two weeks ago). Everyone was really tight, and then when we came back in the afternoon for the (Nextel) Open practice it was unbelievably loose."

You finished seventh last fall at Charlotte. Is that something you feel you can repeat this weekend?

"I don't know. It wasn't our best car at the Open and our lap times weren't the best, but they weren't bad either. We feel like we know what it will take to get the car better. Assuming the conditions are the same, we feel like we can come back a little better and we're confident we're bringing back a better car."

How difficult is the 600-mile race?

"I don't think it's too bad. You get your seat nice and tight and comfortable. It seems early in the race, because it's such a long race, there is a little bit more give and take than normal. Guys aren't necessarily running 100 percent because the track is going to change and there is no use burning up your stuff. That does factor into it. If it was a 400- or 500-mile race, I think everyone might run wide-open. But since it's a 600-mile race, people tend to pace themselves a little bit at the start."

At 5:30 p.m., the track is hot and sunny, but at 10 p.m., the track is much cooler. How difficult is that to prepare for?

"It's going to change every pit stop. Every 40-50 laps the track changes. You can either try to get along and keep up with the track gradually, or you might try to get aggressive and jump ahead of it and get the car to come in at the end of the run. It's a constantly moving target. It's a tough one even for guys who have been there for years -- drivers and crew chiefs."

Will you watch the Indianapolis 500 before the start of the Coca-Cola 600?

"I'm sure I will. If not all of it, at least some of it."

Do you have a pick?

"Last year I was pulling for Marco and Michael Andretti, especially since Michael had come out of retirement. It'd be nice to see an Andretti or even Al Unser, Jr., slip in there and win. It'd be kind of nostalgic. But as long as it's a good, safe race, we'll enjoy it."

BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Overall thoughts heading into the Coca-Cola 600:

"It's a tough race. A lot of things happen in the last 100 miles, reliability-wise. It's a tough event and it's obviously the longest event we do. It's kind of like the granddaddy of all the races."

How important is that last 100 miles?

"Well, they don't hand you the trophy if you're leading after 500 miles. Really, you're fighting driver fatigue and you're fighting wear and tear on the car itself. When it gets down to that last 100 miles, that's typically the time where you're going to run your hardest and fastest laps. That's when driver condition and the condition of the car come together and you see if you have a package that is working."

How hard is it as a crew chief to have the race start in the heat of the day and end under darkness?

"The track ranks right up there with Indianapolis and Richmond as some of the most temperature-sensitive surfaces we run on. If you start with a setup that will be good at 10 p.m. on Sunday night, you're probably going to be lapped two or three times at 7 p.m. because you'll be way too loose. You have to start with the car pretty comfortable and run well early in the evening and have built into your plan the adjustability of freeing up the car. You need to find a balance as the sun goes down. Once this place gets shaded and cools off, the grip level goes way up."

What is the one thing as a crew chief you really want to have at Charlotte?

"It's really a case of having a good balance on your setup. The car has to be comfortable for the driver to get the most out of it. The pace of the race is going to be quick all night long and you're going to see guys who are really good early and guys who are really good late. The guy who's going to win the race is going to be at least mid-pack or better all night long. And then at the end he's going to have his car really dialed in. That takes a lot of experience and correct decisions."

Will you watch the Indianapolis 500 before the start of the Coca-Cola 600?

"Oh, absolutely. You always want to see who wins that race. It's an interesting race to watch."

Do you have a pick?

"I'm going to have to say that probably (Dan) Wheldon will win it again. He's been there and done that and he's been strong so far this year."

TERRY WOOTEN (Spotter, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Is the Coca-Cola 600 harder for spotters because of the length of the race?

"I'd rather spot here than Daytona or Talladega. The race is longer at Charlotte, but at Daytona and Talladega, it never stops. They're always in a pack running three-wide or four-wide. Once they throw the green, you're busy until the next caution."

What is the one thing as a spotter you have to look for at Charlotte?

"A lot of it is just making sure that you stay out in front of (your driver) 60 or 70 yards because if someone spins in the corner, he's up to him before he knows it. You need to stay in front of him more than you need to worry about what's behind him."

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Michael Andretti , Tony Raines , Al Unser Sr.