Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Preview

By: David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Memorial Day weekend for many is a time to reflect on the sacrifices given by the servicemen and women in our nation’s military and to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer, but for race fans, the weekend means more than just that.

Memorial Day weekend means that the greatest weekend in all of motorsports is upon us, with three different styles of racing taking place in three locations all in one day. This Sunday begins with Formula 1 at Monaco, followed by the Indianapolis 500, and concludes with NASCAR’s longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

While some races may seem like a quick knockout, Sunday’s daylight to dusk to darkness marathon is more of a 10 round slugfest, with the driver’s toughness and endurance being put to the test over the duration of the 400-lap event.

What began as the World 600 back in 1960 and was then truly a race of attrition where only the strongest survived has transformed over the years. However, one thing remains, to win this race, you must be able to outlast your competitors and place yourself in the right place to make the move to the front of the field when it counts.

While drivers have become more athletic and equipment has gotten better over the years, the chances of equipment failure are not nearly as high as they were when this race began, but with the cars getting ever faster this season and the teams pushing the envelope more and more, the risk is still there.

By the Numbers

What: Coca-Cola 600, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 13 of 36

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway – Concord, North Carolina (First race: 1960)

When: Sunday, May 27

TV/Radio: FOX, 6:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile quad-oval

Banking: 24 degrees in turns, five degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 400 laps, 600 miles

Stage Lengths: Four stages, 100 laps each

May 2017 Race Winner: Austin Dillon – No. 3 Chevrolet (Started 22nd, two laps led)

October 2017 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started 17th, 91 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (27.167 seconds, 198.771 mph – 10/11/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Charlotte:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 109.8
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 104.9
  3. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 96.4
  4. Matt Kenseth – No. 6 Ford – 96.1
  5. Kasey Kahne – No. 95 Chevrolet – 93.3
  6. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 91.0
  7. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.3
  8. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 88.5
  9. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 88.1
  10. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 85.8

From the Driver’s Seat

“The Coca-Cola 600 is so unique in the time frame that we run the race and we’re up for the challenge to get our setup just right for when the track changes,” Allmendinger said. “The sun on the racetrack definitely makes the track slicker during the day, and then we get a little bit of grip once the sun goes down. The last couple of years, I feel like Charlotte (Motor Speedway) has just gotten slicker anyway. It’s still very temperature sensitive but in general, it doesn’t have a lot of grip in it. To me, it’s more dependent on if it’s really cool out, then there’s enough grip that you can ride and stay in the throttle. If it gets more than 70 degrees or so outside, it’s just a really slick racetrack.”

Last Year’s Results

As this race often does, last year’s running of the Coca-Cola 600 came down to fuel mileage, with an unlikely winner pulling a fast one on the front runners to score the win.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. looked to be in the catbird seat as the race played out as it seemed the win would come down to the two of them. However, fuel mileage became an issue as the finish was in sight and both Busch and Truex would be forced to pit late in the going.

Behind the leaders, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon had been conserving fuel in an effort to stretch it all the way to the finish. Johnson would run out with two laps to go, handing the lead over to Dillon, who held on to score his first career win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Busch came home second , followed by Truex, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Dillon. “I can’t believe it. I was just really focused on those last laps. My fiancé wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here at the 600 Victory Lane. Praise the Lord and all these guys who work so hard; and my pit crew is the best on pit road. I love it for them. We’re in the Chase. It’s awesome.

“I was just trying to be patient with the No. 48. I could see him saving. I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting and it worked out. I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to Victory Lane. The good Lord is blessing us tonight and I can’t thank my grandfather (Richard Childress) enough. He’s put a lot into me. I thank ECR engines. I complain a lot, but they got me in Victory Lane tonight and the fuel mileage was great.  So, thank you guys for everything you do.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Thursday, May 24

  • MENCS Practice (2:35 pm to 3:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (7:15 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, May 26

  • MENCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, May 27

  • MENCS Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (6:00 pm – 400 laps, 600 miles – FOX)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.