2008 Coca Cola 600 Review
by Virginia Vroom of Predictem.com
If you weren’t taking notes last night during the 600, chances are that you were about as lost as the rest of us when it came to running order. Last night’s race proved to be one of the most unpredictable and crazy nights that I’ve witnessed in a while. Drivers who had rarely finished in the top 15 were running in the top 5 all night, competing for the front spot. Guys like Jr. and Stewart were wrecking and still staying on the lead lap. There were cars that were basically totaled, but managed a top ten finish because of the length of the race.
With the exception of Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon had to be one of the happiest people on the track. He fought a bad car all night. The 600 started under the sun and then faded into the night as the drivers were battling the changing track conditions. Gordon had one of the cars that didn’t improve drastically when the sun went down as many predicted it would.
The thought behind racing into the night is that the track is at its best at those times because there is rubber for grip laid down from the first couple hours of racing and the track also cools giving ultimate grip and allowing drivers to utilize all grooves. This is definitely something that we saw happen last night.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked to be well on his way to coming away with his first win in more than a 70 race losing streak when all of a sudden his right front went down and his could not get his car off the wall. Luckily for him, Jr. was utilizing every inch of the high groove and didn’t have very far to go when his tire blew, limiting the damage to his car. Needless to say, Jr. had injury added to insult when J.J. Yeley hit him from behind after he blew a tire and Yeley did not have time to slow down.
Tony Stewart was on the opposite end of that spectrum as he hugged the white line on the bottom of the track all night. He was looking to run away with the win, his first in the 600 should he had been able to do it, but he blew a right front tire with 3 laps to go.
Overall, there were so many instances of crazy antics last night that predicting a winner was virtually impossible in hindsight. Looking back, Busch and Johnson were strong choices with both running up front virtually the entire race until terminal motor problems ended the race for Johnson and Busch started having power issues of his own. Busch was losing volts quickly as the race proceeded, but his team changed a battery during a caution. Busch salvaged a third place finish for a car that was definitely not the strongest by the end of the race.
One car that was consistently good throughout the night was Kasey Kahne. He was your race winner, leading Greg Biffle to the checkers with over a ten second lead.
The fans evidently made the right choice last week voting Kahne into the All-Star. He took the win there and came back to win this weekend, giving him his eighth career win and his first win since October 2006 here at Lowe’s. It seems as though Kahne is getting back his momentum that he had during his 2006 season. Evernham needed this win as well, so it’s good to see them back in victory lane.
As for second place Biffle, he was not quite as disappointed as losing to Kahne as he was last weekend, but it was clear that he would’ve liked to see a closer finish than that 10 second lead that Kahne took advantage of late in the race.
Throughout the night, there were more than 30 lead changes. Drivers had different pit strategies and some were gamblers. There were drivers who took two tire stops and some who took four. There were also the guys like Jeff Gordon who took fuel-only and maintained track position. With the exception of tires, track position became the most important aspect of this race.
As I mentioned in the preview, the length of this race definitely had an impact on several drivers. Had this been a 500 mile race instead of 600 miles, Jimmie Johnson would’ve been sitting in victory lane instead of in the garage with his first DNF of the season.
Kyle Busch may have even come out with the win if he hadn’t begun to lose power so late in the race. Goodyear is going to have to answer some questions as well because so many guys had tire issues. There were guys in the Nationwide race on Saturday night taking 3-lap scuffs on their pit-stops because they did not know what else to do. They had tried every other combination and could not estimate the tire wear correctly. Jr. and Stewart both lost the race essentially because of blowing a right front tire.
There were not so many racing incidents or as many as I would have thought that we were going to see despite tire problems, though. This, again, is a testament to the great work that the engineers and teams have done with these new cars.
There were no big wrecks when there should’ve been, especially when Montoya went three wide on the bottom, scraping the apron of the track and cutting through the grass but somehow managing to keep his car from cutting in front of the rest of the field and keeping his car off the wall.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of the race (unless you’re a Jr. fan) was when Brian Vickers lost his left rear wheel completely. The wheel came off his car and bounced across the track into the retaining wall. It went over the wall and over the fence to the infield nearly missing a crowd of infield campers who greatly enjoyed their souvenir before it was taken back by NASCAR officials.
I was impressed with the run that David Ragan was having, but he slid back to 12th after making a run for the lead at one point. This moved him back out of the top 12 in points into 13th position.
Your top ten finishers from last night are:
1. Kasey Kahne
2. Greg Biffle
3. Kyle Busch
4. Jeff Gordon
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
6. Jeff Burton
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Elliot Sadler
9. Carl Edwards
10. David Reutimann
There were some changes within the top 12 in points also:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Jeff Burton
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Clint Bowyer
6. Carl Edwards
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Tony Stewart
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Greg Biffle
12. Kasey Kahne
The lesson learned from last night is that this new car DOES prove that there are more than Hendrick drivers that can win a race. In fact, these last few races and essentially this season have shown that much. There are fewer bad wrecks, more drivers are winning, and more drivers can be competitive when they couldn’t be last year. This next race is going to be Dover. It’s a track with many winners and many many losers over the years. It is, as we all know, the Monster Mile. Look for my preview later this week.