Charlotte: Series round 13 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Charlotte Kurt Busch Joins Elite Group In Vying For The Charlotte Sweep Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite/Vortex Dodge) defied the burden of past performances at Charlotte Motor Speedway to win last...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes -- Charlotte

Kurt Busch Joins Elite Group In Vying For The Charlotte Sweep

Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite/Vortex Dodge) defied the burden of past performances at Charlotte Motor Speedway to win last weekend's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

The challenge of becoming just the seventh driver to sweep the all-star and Coca-Cola 600 races would appear just as daunting or even more so.

Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, has been hit-and-miss at Charlotte -- with more misses than hits in NASCAR's longest race.

The 31-year-old Busch has never finished higher than 11th in nine Coca-Cola 600 appearances. His last four finishes, since joining Penske Racing, are 34th, 16th, 32nd and 39th. His overall Driver Rating is 81.6 at Charlotte, second worst among the current top 12 in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, as is his average finish of 20.9.

Busch's performance in the 2007 edition of the race, however, shows that the Las Vegas native is capable of pulling off the rare Coca-Cola 600-All-Star "double." He led 107 laps of that race before being sidelined by an accident.

Another positive is the team's 2010 addition of crew chief Steve Addington, who along with Busch, celebrated his first All-Star win.

"We came in totally different to this race to try to learn for the 600 because it's going to be a long race and the race track is going to get rubbered up, get slick, things like that," said Addington, who called the winning set-up "a science project."

What Addington and Busch cooked up in the figurative laboratory just might be the recipe for the driver to score his first Coca-Cola 600 victory.

"We feel very comfortable going into the 600," Busch said. "We have to pace ourselves for the daytime and get into the nightfall, see how things play out for us."

Memorial Day Weekend has been a traditional celebratory event for Penske Racing. Owner Roger Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 15 times and appears the favorite to capture this year's race, having won the pole and qualifying three cars in the top four starting positions. "The Captain," however, has yet to win at Charlotte.

That might create a rivalry between the teams sharing Penske Racing's facilities in Mooresville, N.C. but not from Busch's perspective.

"When they don't win, we scratch our heads," he said. "So it's not necessarily a competition between the NASCAR and the IndyCar side. It's just all an effort that we're all pushing hard at Penske. It's just on the NASCAR side, we want to do better."

In The Loop: Busch-Hamlin Controversy Harm JGR Momentum?

When they're not winning, they're feuding.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) and Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota) got into each other during the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday night, a skirmish that eventually led to a Busch wreck.

The timing is unfortunate, and may be a momentum killer. The two have combined to win the last three points races, and four of the last five. Clearly the two hottest drivers in the series, that success may halt if any ill will remains -- and they don't each conquer their Charlotte demons.

Busch's record at Charlotte is the most perplexing. Some of his statistics are dominant. The problem is, none of his finishes are.

Last season's two Charlotte runs are a microcosm of Busch's career at the 1.5-mile track. He did have two top-10 finishes, but he was so much better than that.

In finishes of sixth and eighth, Busch averaged a Driver Rating of 120.5, an Average Running Position of 5.9 (in last year's 600 it was 1.6), 51 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 91.9%.

Busch, who won his 70th NASCAR national series race last week in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Charlotte, comes into this weekend's event ranked second overall in Driver Rating with a 104.4 (Jimmie Johnson is first with a 118.9).

Then there are the uncharacteristically low numbers compiled by Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin's Charlotte Driver Rating of 82.6 makes Charlotte his fifth-worst track in terms of the Loop Data statistic.

But there's reason for optimism, and it all stems from last October's event.

Hamlin finished 42nd, but the result tells nothing of the performance. Engine failure ruined what looked like a top-five run. In that race, he had a Driver Rating of 100.5, an Average Running Position of 20.0 (which is that low because he finished 142 laps off the lead lap), 54 laps led and 32 Fastest Laps Run.

Johnson's Familiarity With Charlotte Motor Speedway Might Be The Key Tos Hi Succes s

"What's wrong with Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Memorial Day Tribute Chevrolet) and the No. 48 team?" has been an oft-asked question as the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has gone winless in seven consecutive starts.

Beyond perhaps unrealistic expectations for perfection, probably nothing.

Johnson has three victories -- and 30 bonus points when the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in September.

He's also ranked fourth in the standings, comfortably among the top 12 who would qualify for the championship-deciding portion of the 2010 season.

Reality is that Johnson arrives at the Coca- Cola 600 in better shape than in each of his past two title-winning campaigns. A year ago, Johnson also stood fourth in the standings, 136 points off the pace but with a single win. In 2008, he also had one victory and was 248 points behind in sixth place. Only in 2007 did Johnson have more wins -- four -- than this year's total.

"Jimmie's House" is a familiar refrain in describing Charlotte Motor Speedway where the Californian has won six times including a pair of season sweeps in 2004-05. He won the Coca- Cola 600 three consecutive times between 2003 and 2005 and is the defending winner of last fall's event there.

A Coca-Cola 600 win would make him the driver with the most victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway, breaking a tie with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

""What it boils down to is that there are good race tracks for certain drivers and certain organizations," Johnson said. "We just came out of a stretch where there weren't some of our better tracks."

There's no doubt about which side of the ledger Charlotte appears.

First Time Winners Not Out Of The Ordinary At Charlotte Motor Speedway

You only have to look as far back as May 2009 to find the latest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor to post his first victory in the Coca-Cola 600. David Reutimann (No. 00 Armed Forces Foundation Toyota) battled his way to the front via speed and pit strategy to win a race called after 227 laps due to weather conditions.

Reutimann is the sixth different driver to win for the first time in the 50-year history of NASCAR's longest race. Legendary David Pearson became the first in 1961 -- in the race's second edition. There was not another first-time winner until 1994 when Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Stars & Stripes Chevrolet) won his first of 82 races, to date.

Other Coca-Cola 600 first-timers include Bobby Labonte (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet) in 1995; Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Jeremiah Weed Ford) in 2000 and Casey Mears (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) in 2007.

Sunday's race will be special for Mears on several fronts. A second Coca-Cola 600 certainly would burnish his credentials as he bids for a permanent NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seat.

It also would be an emotional triumph for Mears and the entire Red Bull Racing team as he sits in for his close friend, Brian Vickers, who is out for the season due to health problems. Mears drove the No. 83 car last weekend at Charlotte finishing 14th in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

The Coca-Cola 600 is memorable in many ways -- especially for fans of drivers who made their first start in the race. Twenty-four different drivers, including NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt, drove in NASCAR's premier series for the first time in 1975. He finished 22nd.

Several other milestones could be reached on Sunday. Mark Martin (No. 5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) continues to pursue his 50th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole. Kenseth bids for his 100th topfive finish while Labonte looks for his 200th top- 10 finish.

Coca-Cola 600: A Grueling Test

It goes without saying that at 600 miles, Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR's most grueling test. When the race debuted in 1960 as the World 600, there were many doubters.

Things got even more interesting -- and challenging -- in 1993 when the race was shifted to a twilight start. The Coca-Cola 600 effectively became more than just an endurance test for driver and machine.

It also challenged the mental capacities of the 43 crew chiefs on pit road since Charlotte Motor Speedway is notorious for how it changes from twilight to darkness, and from heated to cooling asphalt.

Without a doubt, every winning effort is a winning team effort.

"Six hundred miles is a long way, especially when you go from day to night and you've got a lot of things that you've got to overcome," said Jeff Gordon, winner of the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994 and 1996. "Cars are not going to be perfect. If you're perfect during the day, you've got to make some big adjustments to be ready to go at night. And to be perfect at night, you're going to have to be a little off or way off during the day."

Denny Hamlin agrees. "(There) is just something about that surface that when the sun comes out the oils come up, it just makes it very, very slick," he said. "When it cools down, the speeds start picking up a second or two.

"It's pretty amazing to me why it's so sensitive. I just don't know (why)."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) sees the race requiring a different attitude than one at the traditional distance.

"I think mentally you are kind of programmed to run four or five hundred miles, so the extra 100 miles definitely, you think the race should be over and you have 100 miles to go," Harvick said.

Kyle Busch, who scored his 70th NASCAR national series victory in Charlotte's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race last week, agrees.

"Being the longest race of the year, it is a grueling event, it is a tiresome race, but for me, racing everything I can every weekend, I seem to knock that out of there," Busch said. "Four hundred laps around here might seem like a long time, but when you're in the seat and you have a good driving race car, it's not that long."

Off-Track Activities.: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Coca-Cola 600 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway has something for everyone above and beyond action on the track. This year is no exception. Here are some of the scheduled activities:

The 30th annual AutoTrader.com Speedway Children's Charities Gala will be held in the newly-opened NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The event will honor 2009 Coca-Cola 600 winner David Reutimann and serves as the official kick-off to Coca-Cola 600 Race Week Festivities at Charlotte Motor Speedway. All proceeds will benefit the grant program of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Chapter of the Speedway Children's Charities. Visit www.charlotte.speedwaycharities.org for more information.

Charlotte Motor Speedway officials will randomly select fans in attendance at Thursday's Windstream Pole Night to wave the green flag during NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600. Qualifying is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. A commemorative NASCAR Hall of Fame ticket to pole night, featuring the five Inductees chose for the hall's inaugural class, is being offered at $15. More information is available from www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or 1-800-455-FANS.

The stars of Twentieth Century Fox's summer motion picture event THE A-TEAM will make a special high-octane appearance at this year's Coca-Cola 600. THE A-TEAM headliners Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Sharlto Copley will deploy on a secret mission during pre-race festivities for the 51st running of the Memorial Day Weekend race. In addition, the four actors will serve as honorary race officials for the Coca-Cola 600 and take part in various activities around the speedway prior to the main event.

Paying tribute to all veterans and active U.S. military servicemen and women, the pre-race show for the Coca-Cola 600 will include flyovers with vintage aircraft from different wars; a military assault demonstration by Special Operations soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C.; on-stage recognition of Medal of Honor recipients; and the unfurling of a gigantic, 11,250 square-foot American flag by families of active-duty troops.

Charlotte Motor Speedway has unveiled the PowerAde Play Zone, located in the Smith Tower south parking lot near the main speedway entrance. It features racing-themed inflatable slides, obstacle courses, bounce houses and face painters. There will also be interactive displays, like the Lowe's Build-A-Car Clinic and the Lego Build Zone, where children can play, build and learn. The attraction is open Thursday through Sunday. Hours of operation and special guest appearances can be found at the speedway's website www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

The speedway will host its Coca-Cola Family Track Walk at 11 a.m. Friday. Drivers Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) and Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) will participate in the event that is free to all Coca-Cola 600 ticketholders. The fan walk will be followed by the track's Quarter-Mile Cookout using the nation's longest grill -- 1,320 feet in length -- that will use more than 3.5 tons of charcoal to cook a picnic-style lunch.

Fans have more entertainment options outside the track, as display areas have expanded for 2010. Nearly twice the number of interactive displays as a year ago will line the areas along the main speedway entrance and directly across the street. They include the Coca-Cola Stage which will feature music on race days; the Miller- Coors Porta Bar and the Scotts Turf Build Cornhole Classic area where fans can play the popular tailgating game for prizes, including cash and race tickets.

North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney has been named Honorary Starter and Virginia Rep. Eric. Cantor has been named Honorary Race Director for the Coca-Cola 600. Hackney is in his 15th term in the House and has been speaker since 2007. Cantor is serving his fifth term from Virginia's Seventh District is the House's Republican Whip and member of the Ways and Means Committee.

Fast Facts

The Race: Coca-Cola 600
The Date: Sunday, May 30

The Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval)
The Time: 6 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 laps/600 miles

TV: FOX. 5 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius Satellite (WSOC FM 103.7 local)

2009 Polesitter: Ryan Newman
2009 Winner: David Reutimann

Schedule:
Thursday -- Practice, 3:30-5 p.m., Qualifying 7:10 p.m.

Saturday --
Practice, 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m., Final Practice, 12:50-1:50 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , David Reutimann , Brian Vickers , Bobby Allison , Denny Hamlin , Roger Penske , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , David Pearson
Teams Team Penske