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* Tough preparation: Longest series event challenges drivers, crews and engine shops * Don't count them out: Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin lead list of Coca-Cola 600 favorites * History lesson: Lowe's Motor Speedway famous for jump-starting ...

* Tough preparation: Longest series event challenges drivers, crews and engine shops

* Don't count them out: Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin lead list of Coca-Cola 600 favorites

* History lesson: Lowe's Motor Speedway famous for jump-starting careers


How to win the Coca-Cola 600: Be Ready, Be Patient ... As the longest NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event, the Coca-Cola 600 offers numerous challenges. Among them: The late-afternoon start time and transition into night racing keep teams busy with changing track conditions and adjustments.

"You get more grip at night, for sure," said Dave Blaney (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Country Cocktails Chevrolet), "but the car tends to be a little more free at night. You just try and hang on during the day and not to be too far off one way or the other. All that really matters is being good when it counts."

The same theory applies to horsepower. Good, durable engines are must-haves every week, but absolutely for the Coca-Cola 600, where engine builders must balance firepower with endurance.

"From the team's standpoint, we've got all day and night to work on the car," said Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). "But for the motor guys, they really sweat it out, because once it's in there, it's in there. There's not much more they can do with it."

Like engine builders, drivers and crews also must do the balancing act -- theirs being matching energy with stamina.

"This is definitely an endurance race," said Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). "It is our longest race of the year and if you're not physically prepared, then it is absolutely tough on you."

How to win the Coca-Cola 600, Part II: Be Fit ... Being in good physical condition is important year-round if you're a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver, but especially so during the season's longest event. Drivers who prepare themselves mentally and physically usually weather the Coca-Cola 600 without much trouble.

"I just think being in shape is always important for a race car driver," said Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet). "Especially for races like the 600. If you're physically in shape, you're also going to be more mentally prepared -- your reflexes are going to be sharper."

In his second fulltime season in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, Riggs has become a workout devotee, emphasizing fitness and diet as part of each week's preparation.

"I can tell a huge difference between now and when I was in the NASCAR Busch Series and not on as strict of a workout and nutrition regimen," Riggs said. "Now when I get out of the car after four or five hours I feel fine -- no headache, no dehydration. That comes from being in shape physically and mentally and also from good nutrition. You should see the stuff I eat leading up to race day."

Take a peek:

• Riggs eats every three hours. He consumes a gallon-size food storage bag worth of pasta during a race weekend.

• Riggs' most common meal? Chicken and pasta with fat-free Catalina dressing, or a chicken breast and a plain sweet potato -- carbohydrates and protein.

• Breakfast is usually plain oatmeal with a banana.

• The night prior to a race, Riggs eats a lot of carbohydrates to help his body recover from the physical demands of an event.

• Riggs' typical race day breakfast? Eggs and pasta mixed with ketchup.

Three-Peat? Johnson Looks to Extend Lowe's Dominance ... Jimmie Johnson enters Sunday's event as the likely favorite, and with good reason. Having won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2003 and 2004, he's aiming to bag three consecutive race titles, which would make series history.

Here's why it's not improbable: Johnson won the 2003 race after starting 37th -- the largest deficit a winner has overcome in Lowe's 45-year history. He won the 2004 race as the polesitter. So he's taken varying paths to victory.

Here's another important fact: Johnson finished fifth in last week's 21st annual NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge. And, he's won three of the last four NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at Lowe's.

Mark This: Martin Always a Factor at Lowe's ... Like Johnson, Mark Martin can match his status as a favorite this Sunday with both statistics and results. Since the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge's 1985 inception, five drivers have claimed back-to-back victories in the annual all-star event and the Coca-Cola 600. They are: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (1991), Dale Earnhardt (1993), Jeff Gordon (1997) and Jimmie Johnson (2003).

Martin hopes to be the sixth driver to claim an all-star, Coca-Cola 600 sweep. And if history is any indication, he's definitely got the opportunity. Heading into Sunday, Martin leads all active drivers with 15 top-five finishes, 21 races led and 1,148 laps led in 40 career starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

He and Jeff Gordon also lead all active drivers with four wins each at Lowe's. And, Martin also has been running at the finish of his last 20 races at Lowe's, the best among active drivers.

Milestone Marker ... Ricky Rudd (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford) should make his 58th career start at Lowe's Motor Speedway this weekend. He trails only Richard Petty, who holds the track record with 64 starts at Lowe's.

Kyle Petty (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge) is the other driver with a milestone in his immediate future. Petty should make his 725th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start this weekend.

Dodge gets first win; Chevrolet, Ford Still Tied Atop Series Manufacturers Standings ... After 11 races in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season, Dodge got its first victory of 2005 last Saturday thanks to Kasey Kahne's (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) win at Richmond. Chevrolet and Ford remain tied for the lead in the series' Manufacturers Championship standings, with Dodge running third. Chevrolet retains a slight edge (79-75) in points. ... Chevrolet has won the Manufacturers Championship 28 times while Ford has won 15 times; the other 10 years the championship has been awarded, it has been won by Hudson (3), Dodge (2), Buick (2), Oldsmobile (1), Pontiac (1) and Plymouth (1). ... Points are earned thusly: Nine points to the highest-finishing car type; six points to the second-highest finishing type; four points for the third-highest finishing type. ... Chevrolet has won the championship the last two years. ... Jimmie Johnson is currently the leading Chevrolet driver, as the series point leader. Greg Biffle, second in points, is the top Ford driver. Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) is the leading Dodge driver, ninth in the points.

Owner Points Update: Top 35 Heading to Lowe's ... Beginning in 2005, teams outside the top 35 in owner championship points must qualify on speed for each week's 43 starting spots. The top-35 designation guarantees a spot. Beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 and running through the Bristol race on April 3, the top 35 in 2004 owner points was the yardstick. Beginning with the Martinsville race on April 10, the current top 35 became the yardstick.

From the Archives: Jeff Gordon's First Series Win Still Memorable ... During Jeff Gordon's rookie season of 1993, he accumulated seven top-five finishes, 11 top-10 finishes and one pole in 30 starts. He began his sophomore season with similar momentum, earning two top-five and three top-10 finishes in 10 events. But entering the 11th race of 1994, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Gordon still hadn't won his first points-paying event.

Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon started on the pole. He led the first lap before giving way to Geoffrey Bodine on Lap 2. Brett Bodine took the lead on Lap 6. Then-rookie Joe Nemechek, who had started on the outside pole, was taken out of the race by an accident on Lap 26 and never led.

Eight drivers swapped the lead that day. Rusty Wallace led the most laps. Gordon made it back to the front on Lap 300 for three laps and again on Lap 379 for another three laps. Ricky Rudd shot past Gordon on Lap 382 and led for 10 laps. Gordon made the 24th and final lead change of the race on Lap 392 and held on for his first career victory. At the time, he became only the fourth driver to win the Coca-Cola 600 from the pole in the event's 34-year history.

On Deck: Dover International Speedway ... Race No. 13 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule will be Sunday, June 5 -- the MBNA RacePoints 400 at Dover International Speedway. Dover, a 1-mile oval, has been part of the schedule since 1969 when the race winner was Richard Petty. ... Mark Martin is defending champion. Jeremy Mayfield was last year's polesitter.

Fast Facts

The race: Coca-Cola 600.

The track: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C. (1.5-mile oval.)

The date/time: Sunday, May 29, 5:30 p.m. (ET).

TV: FOX, 5 p.m. (ET).
Radio: PRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $6,359,899.

Race length: 400 laps, 600 miles.
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval.

2004 winner: Jimmie Johnson.
2004 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Jimmie Johnson 1,562. 2. Greg Biffle 1,521. 3. Jeff Gordon 1,438. 4. Elliott Sadler 1,413. 5. Kurt Busch 1,407. 6. Tony Stewart 1,397. 7. Ryan Newman 1,370. 8. Kevin Harvick 1,364. 9. Jamie McMurray 1,351. 10. Mark Martin 1,344.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Brett Bodine , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Geoffrey Bodine , Kyle Petty , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney , Mark Martin , Davey Allison
Teams Hendrick Motorsports