Rusty Wallace: "Everything's Better at Night"
¿Everybody prefers night racing, especially at Charlotte,¿ said Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. ¿The race track¿s much more consistent at night and race fans like it better. Everything¿s better at night. Everything¿s cool. Everything¿s more dramatic. I can¿t think of anything negative about a night race.¿
With The Winston running under the lights since 1992 and the Coca-Cola 600 starting in the evening and ending at night, track officials had been working with NASCAR and television officials for several years in an effort to move the 500-mile fall classic from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night. This year all the pieces fell into place.
¿Night racing has become extremely popular with race fans everywhere,¿ said H.A. ¿Humpy¿ Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe¿s Motor Speedway. ¿Running The Winston and Coca-Cola 600 under the lights certainly took those events to a higher level in the 1990s, and we think it will do the same for the UAW-GM Quality 500.
¿There is something very special about the atmosphere surrounding any night race¿even at the local short tracks,¿ Wheeler continued. ¿We¿ve been thinking about moving the October races for several years and cooperation from NASCAR and NBC has made it possible.¿
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe¿s Chevrolet, won The Winston and the Coca-Cola 600 in May and believes switching the fall race to night increases his odds of being the first driver to win all three of the track¿s NASCAR Winston Cup races in the same year.
¿I think we have a good balance as to how to set the car up for night racing,¿ Johnson explained. ¿During the day, the track is so slick that you have your hands full. So I am excited about the 500 moving to night.¿
And, this time around, Johnson won¿t have to worry about finding the proper setup for the late afternoon, as he did for the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
¿It will close up that setup window in terms of adjustability and take some headaches out of it for us,¿ he said. ¿But the track does change a lot from when the sun first goes down through the next couple of hours. So we¿ll be chasing that.
¿I think racing under the lights is fun,¿ Johnson continued. ¿There¿s just a different energy to it when you run at night.¿
¿I like racing at night,¿ said Valvoline Pontiac driver Johnny Benson. ¿We all grew up Saturday night racing and that¿s what we like. It¿s cooler, there is less glare and the track stays more consistent.
¿But it¿s really the atmosphere that makes night racing so much fun,¿ Benson added. ¿The fans seem more intense, the crew guys are hyped up and all that transfers to the drivers.¿
Veteran crew chief Ryan Pemberton figures things will be easier when he¿s setting up the No. 01 U.S. Army Pontiac for driver Mike Skinner. Daytime practice sessions prior to the Coca-Cola 600 leave teams scrambling to find the proper setup once the sun goes down.
And even during past October races, the finicky track¿s handling characteristics have been known to change as soon as a cloud moves in front of the sun.
¿It¿s definitely a little easier, because it¿s more consistent at night,¿ Pemberton noted. ¿The track changes so much between the sun being out to it being overcast. That¿s a bigger difference than it is racing at night.¿
¿The track¿s a lot racier at night and there¿s just a different atmosphere,¿ said Wallace¿s crew chief, Billy Wilburn. ¿And, of course, you¿ve got different track conditions since it¿s a lot cooler. It makes for better racing.
¿When we know we¿ll be racing at 10 o¿clock at night with no sunlight and cooler temperatures, it allows us to go a little more extreme on the setups,¿ Wilburn continued. ¿In the heat of the day, the track is greasy, the cars are loose and you have got to really tighten everything up and have the car kind of adjustable. At night, you have to be the same way, but kind of in the opposite direction.¿
Tickets for the inaugural nighttime running of the UAW-GM Quality 500 start at just $19 and can be obtained online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.