Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 will be Two Different Races
That’s because the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ longest – and, perhaps, most grueling – event begins in the late afternoon heat and ends in darkness. The 600-mile race comprised of 400 laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout is an exercise in strategy.
Run fast enough to keep track position when the sun shines but be able to adjust when night falls. The extra 100 miles is taxing on both engines and driver concentration.
Kasey Kahne and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team stood tall a year ago. Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 for the third time, matching the 600 records of teammates Jimmie Johnson (2003-04-05) and Jeff Gordon (1994, 1997-98). Hendrick is Charlotte’s defining organization with 17 points-paying victories – more than twice the number of its closest pursuers.
Johnson rides into 600 week savoring his record fourth NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory. He, along with Kahne, is an obvious favorite but Kyle Busch – who never has won at Charlotte – captured two of the first four All-Star Race segments and can’t be discounted.
Sprint Cup champions have ruled the Coca-Cola 600 for two decades. One notable non-winner is three-time titleholder Tony Stewart, who has managed just a single top-10 finish in his eight most recent Coca-Cola 600 starts. Stewart, outside the top 20 in current points standings, needs a victory to kick his season into a higher gear.
The Coca-Cola 600 isn’t without first-time winners. NASCAR Hall of Fame member David Pearson was the first in 1961. Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte also minted first victories in the season’s longest race. So did Casey Mears and David Reutimann.
Saturday’s History 300 marks the beginning of NASCAR Nationwide Series races on 21 consecutive weekends. Elliott Sadler, who made the move to Joe Gibbs Racing to enhance his championship hopes, looks to burnish a solid Charlotte Motor Speedway resume that contains a Coors Light Pole and four top-five and five top-10 finishes. Sadler ranks third, 42 points behind leader Regan Smith.