Memorial Day Weekend is here. One of the biggest weekends in racing with the running of the Indy 500 and a crown jewel of NASCAR, the Coca Cola 600 on Sunday evening from Charlotte Motor Speedway. The longest race of the season takes a toll on the drivers with just how mentally sharp and focused they have to stay through all 600 miles and 400 laps on the 1.5 mile oval. Never mind the physical component with just how tired and exhausted the drivers get from handling the car in the turns lap after lap. This is why guys like Jimmie Johnson bike all those miles each week, it’s survival of the fittest at Charlotte on Sunday.
Stock car racing’s longest night offers a challenge to the drivers and teams as the track changes from the first half of the race to the second with the sun-setting and the track temperature changing drastically. The crew chiefs always have to be ready to make adjustments on the fly and get the car driving the way they want it to in order to put their driver in the best position to take the checkered flag. And more often than not with the 600, it comes down to fuel mileage at the conclusion of the race. Just look back and watch Austin Dillon steal his first win one year ago and the disgruntled Kyle Busch who was not thrilled with how the iconic race finished off.
Back to Jimmie, he’s the leading active driver for wins in the landmark race with 4 victories in 14 tries in the Coke 600. His last came during the 2014 season and a win on Sunday would be a welcomed sight for the seven-time champion and the entire No. 48 team as they have yet to crack the win column this season and it’s been career-long 35 race winless streak for the driver of the Lowe’s Chevrolet. He snapped a skid in 2014 at this very race and will be looking to do the same on Sunday, they have shown the ability to run up towards the front in recent races and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jimmie Johnson back in victory lane on Sunday night getting the 400-pound gorilla off his back. He rolls off 23rd on Sunday night, but will have 400 laps to work his way to the front.
Martin Truex Jr. is another driver to keep your eye on Sunday as he dominated this race two years ago and we all know that team’s success on the mile-and-a-half program in recent years that culminated with a championship last fall. Truex is looking for his second win of the season and it would be foolish to count out the No. 78 on Sunday in Charlotte even if he is starting back in 15th, long race to make up those spots. A few sleepers to keep your eye on for Sunday include Kasey Kahne (qualified 26th) running the No. 95 Chevy for Levine Family Racing, while the team may not be at the same level as some of the other Chevrolets on track, the driver has scored 3 career wins in the Coke 600 and like Dillon last year, could sneak his way in position to steal a win. Daniel Suarez scored a runner-up finish in the All-Star race in the second straight year he’s contended for the win and has an average finish of 8.50 during his two point races at Charlotte, a good chance he finishes the race on Sunday with a solid result especially starting 10th.
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for, it’s time to talk about the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford Fusion Kevin Harvick. “The Closer” is coming off back-to-back points race victories at Dover and Kansas and just scored another victory at Charlotte in the All-Star Race. All in all he’s got five wins through the first twelve races of the season and another $1 million in his back pocket from the win in Charlotte last weekend. Crew Chief Rodney Childers and that team have fine-tuned the set-up on the 1.5 mile tracks this season with three wins at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Kansas and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the No. 4 burning ’em down again at the conclusion of the race Sunday night. There’s a few guys that may give Harvick a battle during the demanding 600-mile race like Kyle Busch and Joey Logano who start on the front row and have shown the early speed, but as of this moment there’s no chance I’m picking against the No. 4 even starting back in 39th after he failed to get through inspection in qualifying. That just means no laps on his tires and a Ford ready to pass a ton of cars on Sunday.
Many drivers will honor fallen soldiers with their names on the car and meet their family prior to the race. A Memorial Day tradition like no other and its also common place for many teams to run patriotic paint schemes for the huge race, a lot of red, white and blue to show their appreciation of all the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice keeping our glorious country safe. It’s all in the NASCAR tradition, and why I am proud to be a fan, spectator and share my opinion on the sport to my audience.
I’m heading down to Charlotte this week for the first time to check out the track and enjoy the race every driver has marked on their calendar at the beginning of the season. No better tradition than Memorial Day Weekend racing between the Indy 500 & Coke 600.
Follow me on Twitter for race updates from the 600 on Sunday night: @FrankBostonTank