There is good strategy and then there’s dumb luck.
There are many aspects to winning auto races. The driver has to be on point and keep the car out of trouble for the entire event. The mechanics of the car must work for the entire length of the event to avoid a failure. The pit crew needs to do their job successfully and quickly to not put their driver at a disadvantage. And the crew chief needs to make the right decisions and adjustments in order to have the car at its best when it counts the most. There are races that are won and lost by strategy, and there are other races that are won by just dumb luck. This past weekend was one of those dumb-luck races.
The Coca-Cola 600 turned into a marathon attempt at keeping the track dry and raceable long enough to complete the race. When it was all said and done, the race was completed, albeit at a much shorter distance than the advertised 600 miles. With four cautions and two red flags resulting from rain, and a third for a moment of silence to commemorate our military, the race was only able to complete 340.5 miles.
When the event was finally called official, David Reutimann was in the lead and awarded the victory in the race. While history will show that Reutimann won the race, in reality, it was just dumb luck that allowed him to take home the huge, 50th anniversary trophy.
With rain dousing all of the southeastern United States, eyes were on the radar as much as they were on the action on the racetrack. When the caution flag flew on lap 222, there was a cell over the racetrack, but there was an opening behind it. It looked just like the other three cells that had moved over the track and slowed the action, although dumping a little more rain than the other two.
Reutimann’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, chose to leave him out on the track rather than coming down the pit lane to make adjustments on the off-chance that the rain would not stop. While the radar didn’t look like that would happen, Childers ended up being prophetic because the rain never quit long enough for the event to resume before it was called.
Prior to that call, Reutimann had been a top-15 car for the whole race except for a short stint in the top five from laps in the early 70s to low 100s. Reutimann had flat-sided the right side of his car by bouncing it off the wall and damaged the handling which prevented him from running at the lead of the pack. That fact was moot when the pit call was made and Reutimann ended up in the lead when the race was stopped the final time.
While some people feel that this was a strategy call, it was simply a roll of the dice. Reutimann was running 14th and coming into the pits would have caused him to line back up somewhere in the teens to low 20s. We see that gamble happen most times there is a rain stoppage after the half way point of a race, they just seldom pay off. This looked like it was going to be another one of those cases, but another cell blew up directly behind the one that was over the track and that prevented the race from going back to green. That cell that blew up was the only thing that made Reutimann a winner.
Strategy victories come from teams taking two tires late in a race for track position. They come from crew chiefs asking their driver to try and stretch their fuel mileage, and the driver successfully making that happen. They stem from short pitting, gaining ground on the leaders and catching a caution at the right time to end up in front of the pack. This weekend was none of those. It was simply a gamble, a roll of the dice that ended up coming up a winner.
Dumb luck is part of racing and the win still goes in the book just like the wins for drivers who dominate the entire race that runs the full distance. It can just leave a bad taste in your mouth when the win is bestowed on someone who never led the race before they rolled those dice.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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