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Coca-Cola 600 race preview

Posted on: May 26, 2011 9:12 pm
Edited on: May 26, 2011 9:19 pm
 
By Pete Pistone




COCA-COLA 600 PREVIEW 

It’s still debatable whether Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is bigger in stature than the Indianapolis 500. 

But one thing is for certain – it’s a lot longer. 

An additional 100 miles may not seem like much, but the extra distance has often made the difference between a driver getting to victory lane and ending his night in the garage. 

Engine issues, mechanical problems and pit road miscues all have a knack of popping up in the final stages of the traditional Memorial Day weekend race. 

“It is a long race,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “It is fun and it is challenging. Those last 100 miles can be pretty tough on you, more mentally than physically. Real tough mentally to stay focused for that long. 

"You might remain a little more relaxed early in the race. If things aren’t progressing like you would want, you might be a little more calm knowing that the race is longer. You have time to turn it around. It is a real long event. Plenty of things can happen and you can reverse your fortune and have plenty of time to get a good finish." 

Some drivers have a tendency to forget just how long the event is until they hit 500 miles. In reality, that’s usually when the race is just getting started. 

“Once you get past that 500-mile mark, that’s when things get interesting,” said Carl Edwards, who is hoping to pull off a May Charlotte sweep and follow-up his Sprint All-Star Race win of a week ago with a trip to victory lane Sunday night. 

“And what really makes it interesting is how the race ends under the lights after we start in the heat of the sun. It takes a lot of adjusting and dealing with the handling issues which change so drastically over the course of the race.” 

Kurt Busch, who has been struggling in the last few weeks after starting the season off so well in Daytona, knows just what a successful May can mean to the rest of the season. The Penske Racing driver pulled off the Charlotte double a year ago and looks to the accomplishment as a turning point in his season. 

But Busch says that boost doesn’t last forever. 

“That was special,” Busch said. “It gave us some momentum for June and July; you can’t hold on to that performance forever. You have to continue to post results and that’s what we need to do - get back to that same style of the car having that feel in it. We need solid pit stops and be a solid threat in the top-five every week."   

 

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Track Size: 1.5-miles 

Race Length: 600 miles 

Banking/Frontstretch: 5 degrees 

Banking/Corners: 24 degrees

 

Qualifying/Race Data 

2010 pole winner: Ryan Newman (187.546 mph, 28.793 seconds) 

2010 race winner: Kurt Busch (144.966 mph, 05-30-10) 

Track qualifying record: Elliott Sadler (193.216 mph, 27.948 seconds, 10-13-05) 

600-mile race record: Bobby Labonte (151.952 mph, 05-28-95)

 

Race Facts

There have been 104 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, two races per year since the track opened in 1960. In 1961, there were two 100-mile qualifying points races held the week before the May race. The first six fall races at Charlotte were 400-mile events (1960-65).        

37 drivers have posted poles, led by David Pearson with 14.        

Fireball Roberts won the pole for the first race, in 1960.       

David Pearson posted 11 straight poles at Charlotte from the fall of 1973 through 1978.        

Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles, with nine. Jeff Gordon has eight.        

Jeff Gordon won five straight poles for the spring races between 1994 and 1998.        

43 drivers have won races, led by Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson, with six each.        

Joe Lee Johnson won the first race, in 1960.        

There have been 13 back-to-back victories, including three consecutive by Fred Lorenzen (fall 1964 and both 1965) and four straight by Jimmie Johnson (both in 2004 and 2005).        

A sweep has occurred eight times, including each season from 2004-2007.        

14 races have been won from the pole, the last by Jimmie Johnson (October 2009).        

Jimmie Johnson won the 2003 Coca-Cola 600 from the 37th starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.        

Joey Logano is one of two drivers with more than two Charlotte races to average top-10 finishes (8.5); Jimmie Johnson is the other, with an average finish of 9.8.        

A number of active drivers earned their first win at CMS: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann. Inactive drivers David Pearson, Buddy Baker and Charlie Glotzbach also got their first series win at Charlotte.

 

Who’s Hot at Charlotte 

Carl Edwards – His overall statistics may not be the best at Charlotte but nobody has more momentum coming into Sunday’s race than Edwards. His dominating win in last Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race makes Edwards the favorite Sunday as he tries to duplicate the sweep of both races turned in a year ago by Kurt Busch. Edwards did have two finishes outside the Top 10 last year at Charlotte but that was an eternity ago. 

Jimmie Johnson – While Charlotte hasn’t lived up to its name in recent years Johnson still considers the track his house. Winning eight times in your Sprint Cup career will do that to a driver and although he hasn’t visited victory lane since 2009, Johnson looked strong in the All-Star Race and will carry that into the 600. 

Kyle Busch  – He’s won in everything at Charlotte except a Sprint Cup car but has a very good chance at ending that drought on Sunday. Another driver who was solid in the all-star outing, Busch brings a string of seven straight Top 10 finishes into the 600.

 

Who’s Not 

Juan Pablo Montoya – Charlotte has not been the best track for Montoya during his Sprint Cup career. He has one Top 10 finish in eight starts and has racked up a less than impressive 27.6 average finish. 

Marcos Ambrose – Another road racing standout who has struggled to make the transition to the Charlotte mile and a half oval. Ambrose has been able to muster only a 16th place as his best finish in four Cup outings. 

Paul Menard – The Richard Childress Racing driver will make his first Charlotte start for the team in Sunday’s 600 and comes off a nice run in the All-Star Race. Menard only has one Top 10 in eight starts and a 23.9 average finish.

 

Notebook 

Construction began on Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959.       

The track’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on June 19, 1960.        

The track was repaved midseason in 1994.       

The track name changed from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1999. It changed back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2010 season.

The track was re-paved again before the 2006 season.

There have been 512 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in North Carolina. 

 
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