Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a successful week to reopen the 2020 season at Darlington, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to home base at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 61st running of the Coca-Cola 600.

Sunday should have been a day full of racing with the Formula 1 race at Monaco and the Indianapolis 500 preceding Sunday night’s race, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only NASCAR will be in the spotlight, with both qualifying (2:00 pm ET) and the race (6:00 pm ET) taking place in one day.

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 nature of the racing that has emerged since the new high downforce package was rolled out and the teams pushing the envelope more and more, the risk is still there.

By the Numbers

What: Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 7 of 36

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

When: Sunday, May 24

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

2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota (Started 14th, 116 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch (27.167 seconds, 198.771 mph – 10/11/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Charlotte:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 108.9
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 107.4
  3. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 97.0
  4. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 94.8
  5. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 91.5
  6. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 90.0
  7. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 89.5
  8. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.7
  9. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 87.8
  10. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 87.2

From the Driver’s Seat

Seven-time champion and four-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, Jimmie Johnson, describes racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Last Year’s Results

The yellow flag became a prominent feature of the 2019 Coca-Cola 600 with 16 cautions taking up 80 laps of the race. Not even eventual race winner Martin Truex, Jr. was immune from trouble during the event.

Truex had a lead of more than three seconds when he blew a tire on lap 75 and struck the outside wall in Turn 3. Despite the damage, Truex and his team were able to rally and stay in contention as the nearly five-hour race played out.

Restarting third when the final restart took place, Truex made a bold move down the backstretch to pass David Ragan, Ryan Newman, and Kyle Busch four-wide in an effort to put himself in position to claim another Coca-Cola 600 victory.

Despite having the lead with five laps to go, he still had to hold off a hard charging Joey Logano, who wasn’t going down without a fight. The two duked it out over the last handful of laps, with Truex holding the upper hand as the checkered flag waved, beating Logano to the line by 0.330 seconds.

Kyle Busch finished third, followed by Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. rounding out the top-five.

“It was definitely a tough race,” Truex said.  “It was a heck of a battle.  I thought early on in the race we were really strong, obviously, and felt like running away with that first stage, and 75 laps in or something like that, we were kind of checking out and then just blew a right front tire out of nowhere and hit the fence and thought, oh, man — it felt like our race was going to be over at that point.  I hit the wall pretty good and had damage and had tire rubs and all that.

“Just never gave up on it, kept working and kept fighting, and by like lap 250 or so, we got it dialed back in to where it was pretty good.  Pretty amazing really, to see the car after the race; it looks like we raced the damned thing at Martinsville.

“I’m just kind of amazed and kind of speechless.  But thanks to my team, they did a great job.  We never gave up on it and kept working and kept tweaking, and the last 100, 150 laps it was really good.  Just thankful for all of them for the hard work, and we’ve got an awesome race team, and now that we’ve got some momentum here and a little confidence on the mile-and-a-half, that’s a really good sign for us moving forward.

“So just overall a really good week for us, and I felt good going into the race, and it’s nice to kind of back that up.  Feels good, and pretty awesome weekend to win.”

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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.