Sprint Cup – Coca-Cola 600 Changes But Remains Test Of Endurance DAYTONA BEACH, May 27, 2012: Much – almost everything –has changed since Joe Lee Johnson spent 5-1/2 hours behind thewheel of his Chevrolet en route to victory in 1960’sinaugural World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now the Coca-Cola 600, a 600-mile, 400-lap marathon, is as muchabout speed as endurance. It’s just a different kind of endurance. Sunday’s 53rd edition of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’longest race (FOX, live, 6 p.m.
EDT) isn’t your father orgrandfather’s competition. The driver’s right foot willbe as flat to the floor as possible from a late- afternoon greenflag to the checkers that will fall under the lights. Pit crews, nomatter how exhausted, will be expected to perform sub-13-secondstops whether it’s lap 10 or 390. A year ago 19 of the race’s 30 finishers completed all 400laps – a far cry from Johnson’s four-lap margin ofvictory over Johnny Beauchamp. The 60-car field was reduced to 18by engine, rear end and suspension failures and accidents.
Nearly 20 years later, when NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltripwon his first of a record five Coca-Cola 600s, the equipment hadimproved although hardly to the level of today’s machines.Waltrip will analyze Sunday’s race as part of the FOXbroadcast team that includes Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds. “It was a mini endurance race,” said Waltrip, who wonthe race for three different owners and two crew chiefs over morethan a decade. “Cars at the time when you went over 400 milesyou were pushing it. The equipment wasn’t that good. You hadone of everything: one good engine and your backup (car) was theshow car that had been sitting in a K-Mart parking lot. Industrial High Bay Lighting
“It took a game plan. You’d be thinking about a pace, alot like road racing – when to pit and not let anythinginterfere with it. Now it’s totally opposite: it’s a600-mile sprint race.” Waltrip competed in the race 28 consecutive times, the last in1995, finishing 11 times in the top five. He won the Coca-Cola 600in 1978-79 driving for DiGard Racing and crew chief Buddy Parrott.NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson provided his 1985-winningChevrolet along with crew chief Jeff Hammond. T8 LED Tube Light Manufacturer
Hammond also was incharge during 1988-89 wins for Hendrick Motorsports. He beat Donnie Allison in 1978, Richard Petty in 1979, Harry Gantin 1985, Rusty Wallace in 1988 and Sterling Marlin in 1989. Inthree of the five wins, Waltrip took the lead for the final timewith less than 60 laps remaining. “We would let the race come to us. G4 LED Lamps Manufacturer
We knew the smart strategywas to be conservative and charge at the end,” he saidmirroring the tactics of NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson athree-time Coca Cola 600 winner. “I watched him early in mycareer and it paid off. You just had to keep ’em (theleaders) in sight.” Hammond, now a FOX pit analyst, agrees that Waltrip was a scholarof the competition – much of it destined, like his driver,for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “He was a good student of David(Pearson) and all of those he raced against. He took (lessons) fromall of them,” said Hammond, who teamed with Waltrip to win 43times between 1982 and 1992.
“He was very methodical and wouldn’t get excited aboutwhat was going on (around him) on the race track.” The secret to Waltrip’s success, according to Hammond, wasthe ability to listen and absorb. “He was smart, unlike a lotof drivers. You could talk to him about taking care of theequipment,” he said. “You’d establish a line andhe’d run the car to it and roll out. He didn’t believein driving the corners flat-out.
He didn’t fire it in there. “He listened, learned and applied. He didn’t make thesame mistake twice.” Waltrip also was physically fit – better than many of hiscompetitors – in days before time in the gym was a keyelement of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. That made a differenceespecially with poor driver compartment ventilation, hotfloorboards and cars without power steering.
All took a toll,especially before lighting allowed much of the Coca-Cola 600 to berun after dark. “The guy in the best shape had the best chance,” saidWaltrip. “I didn’t get tired.” Waltrip, however, remembers one rival – fellow NASCAR Hall ofFamer Cale Yarborough – who was just as fit. “Cale wastenacious. Like in football, you could run him around but youcouldn’t tip him over,” he said.
Waltrip doesn’t have a favorite “600” victoryinstead recalling one he didn’t win – 1980 which hefinished second to Benny Parsons. The pair traded the lead fivetimes over the final 25 laps in one of the race’s mostcompelling conclusions. Parsons, a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion andbroadcaster before his death in 2007 passed Waltrip on Lap 399 andwon by a half-second. “I should have won; that one got away,” said Waltrip,who led 157 laps and would have been the first to win the”600″ three consecutive times.
According to Hammond, the shoe usually was on the other foot.Waltrip is fond of saying go where they aren’t andthat’s what he did. “He’d sneak up and steal the pie off the window sillwhile nobody was looking,” said Hammond.