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What's the key to a Sunday victory?

5/25/2013

Sunday is arguably the biggest day of auto racing of the year, with the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco, the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 and the Sprint Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte filling the day.

Winning any of these three races will check an item off a driver’s to-do list, but what are the keys to getting to victory lane?

Grand Prix of Monaco –- Qualify Up Front

The Grand Prix of Monaco is like no other Formula One event. Held on the twisty streets of Monte Carlo, overtaking is exceedingly difficult, meaning pole position is crucial. The winner has come from pole in eight of the last nine Monaco Grand Prix.

Mercedes has flashed its qualifying pace this year, but has struggled to keep speed during longer runs. Monaco's emphasis on downforce rather than speed, however, should make Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg appealing choices.

But the safer bet may be Red Bull, which has had an immense edge at Monte Carlo, leading 91.9 percent of laps in the last three trips. This year, Red Bull will look to join BRM (1963-1966) and McLaren (1988-1993) as the only constructors to win at least four straight at Monaco.

Mark Webber has struggled this season, but he should not be overlooked, having won two of the last three here. He and Fernando Alonso are the only two active drivers with multiple Monaco wins.

Webber's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, has continued his torrid pace. His 230 points since Singapore last season are 59 more than any other driver. In that span, he's won six of 12 Grand Prix.

Indianapolis 500 – Running Second the Best Bet?

If recent history holds true, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 should be a thriller. Since 1995, 10 races had the final lead change within the final 10 laps.

By comparison, in the first 78 Indy 500s (1911-94), there were just nine races in which the final lead change was in the final ten laps.

Closest Indy 500 Finishes- Since 1995

The best place to be late has proved to be second place, instead of the lead. In 2006, Sam Hornish Jr. trailed Marco Andretti heading down the frontstretch on the final lap,but he slingshot his way around Andretti to score the victory.

Five years later, Dan Wheldon was beneficiary of race leader JR Hildebrand’s Turn 4 crash. Wheldon navigated around Hildebrand and registered his second 500 victory. Those were the only time a driver won the Indy 500 with a last-lap pass.

Expect to see the lead swapped many times. When the current chassis made its 500 debut last year, it set the event record for lead changes with 34. The previous record (29) had stood since 1960.

NSCS at Charlotte – Survive the Day, Thrive at Night

Since 1960, the spring race at Charlotte has been 600 miles, making it the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule, a test of endurance for driver and machinery.

The key to the 600 has been to stay in contention early, not peaking or using up equipment, and then hit the set-up for the stretch run.

Green-Flag Lap Avg Time Rank
Last Two Charlotte Race Winners

Last year, race winner Kasey Kahne had the fifth-fastest average green-flag lap time over the first quarter of the race. It was the fourth-fastest in the second quarter, second-fastest in the third, and the fastest in the final 100 laps.

Compare that to 2011, when Kevin Harvick won in a wild finish. Harvick was only the 20th-fastest in the first 100 laps, and still outside the top 10 in average lap time in the second and third quarters.

But in the final segment, Harvick’s lap time improved to the fourth-fastest in the field, putting him position to take advantage of Dale Earnhardt Jr. running out of gas on the last lap.