NASCAR Weekend Preview: Charlotte Motor Speedway

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 27: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Red White & Blue Toyota, takes the green flag to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 27, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

For all the deserved attention this Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (at 6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) receives annually – for its celebration of our country’s military heroes and the challenge of mastering NASCAR’s longest race – it has presented a unique competitive situation for even the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series best.

Eight of the top-16 drivers in the current series standings – Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson – have never won a regular season race on the Charlotte oval.

Five more – Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer – have only one Charlotte trophy each despite four championships and 149 race wins among them.

Not only is this race the longest of the season (600 miles – 400 laps), it has more stages (four) and will be contested under late afternoon turning into nighttime conditions.

“It’s a hundred miles longer than any other race we run, which provides a challenge in and of itself,” said Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. “On top of that, there is an extra stage, which gives us the opportunity to earn more points.

“The cars have less grip when the sun is out and they tend to slip and slide a lot more. As the sun goes down, the track gets more grip and we start going faster. That’s one of the very unique things about this race. What you have from a drive-ability and balance standpoint from the race car at the beginning of the race is not what you have at the end. You’re trying to figure out what it takes to get your car to win at the end and you have to be good at all facets because there are a lot of points to be made.”

There have been nine different Coca-Cola 600 winners in the last 10 years – only Kevin Harvick has won the race twice in that span. Austin Dillon won his first ever Monster Energy Series race in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. Kyle Busch won his first ever series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Spring.

Martin Truex Jr. set an amazing mark of dominance – leading 392 of the 400 laps in the 2016 Coca-Cola 600. And Jimmie Johnson earned a fourth Coca-Cola 600 trophy in 2014 – most among this week’s field.

The opportunity to win in such a unique, extended format during one of the most celebrated racing weekends of the year is something that makes these drivers even more enthusiastic.

“With it being the 600, I love the tradition of the extra 100 miles and the toll that it puts on the cars, teams and drivers,” Dillon said. “It is genuinely a cool event and one of the marquee races in NASCAR.”

As Dillon indicated, even the talented younger drivers recognize the special circumstance it takes to hoist a trophy in this particular event.

“I think it’s a true test of your fitness level and mental capacity as a driver, not just for the heat but for the endurance it takes,” said Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who suffered a DNF in his Charlotte 600-mile debut last year.

“Team-wise there was a stretch for a few years that it was easier to make it 600 miles, but now with the performance as critical as it is, I think the cars are pushed more and the engines are pushed more, making it harder to go the full distance. I think this race really is a test of everything you have as the sport just gets more and more competitive.”

XFINTY SERIES RETURNS TO CHARLOTTE

As with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 600-miler the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300 (Saturday, May 25 at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has proven to be one of the most competitive events on the schedule with six different winners taking the checkered flag in the last six races.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race last year over Cole Custer and Christopher Bell – two drivers who ultimately raced for the Xfinity Series championship in 2018 and are setting themselves up for another run at the title this season.

This weekend, Austin Dillon is the only fulltime Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver entered in the race – sweeping the series Charlotte races in 2015. He and veteran Jeff Green (May 2001 and May 2002) are the only former Charlotte winners in the field.

This weekend marks the 11th race for the Xfinity Series and an impressive seven races have been won by series regulars led by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell (three) and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Custer (two). Both their team owners, coincidentally – Gibbs and Tony Stewart were voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

Defending series champion Tyler Reddick (the Talladega race winner) leads the points standings by 23 points over Bell. Custer is third, 71 points behind. Austin Cindric (-81) and Justin Allgaier (-114) round out the top-five.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Coca-Cola 600

The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, May 26

The Time: 6:00 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 5:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 600 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 100),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 200), Stage 3 (Ends on Lap 300), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch

What To Watch For: There have been 119 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points-paying races at Charlotte Motor Speedway producing 45 different pole winners and 51 different race winners. … Of the 45 series Busch Pole winners at Charlotte Motor Speedway nine are active this weekend. … NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in poles at Charlotte with 14 – which is the series record for the most poles by a driver at a single track. … Pearson won 11-straight poles from the Fall of 1973 through 1978. … Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles at Charlotte with nine. … Pearson and Newman are tied for the series-most Coca-Cola 600 poles with six each. … Eight drivers have posted their first Monster Energy Series career pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway – two are entered this weekend – Ryan Newman (May, 2001) and Aric Almirola (May, 2012). … Series track record for youngest Charlotte pole winner is held by Jeff Gordon at the age of 22 years, 2 months and 6 days (October 10, 1993). Series track record for the oldest Charlotte pole winner is held by Bobby Allison at the age of 49 years, 10 months and 8 days (October 11, 1987). … Of the 51 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Charlotte Motor Speedway race winners nine are active this weekend. … Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson leads the series in checkered flags at Charlotte with eight wins; four of which are Coca-Cola 600 victories, second (all-time) only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip’s five. … A total of 33 different drivers have won the Coca-Cola 600, six are active this weekend – Johnson (four wins), Kevin Harvick (two), Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. (each have one). … The first and second starting positions are the most proficient starting positions in the field, producing more winners (17 each) than any other starting position at Charlotte Motor Speedway – a winning percentage of 14.29%. … Plus, 89 of the 119 series races (74.79%) at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been won by drivers starting inside the top-10. … The deepest in the field that a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner has started at Charlotte is 37th, by Jimmie Johnson in the Coca-Cola 600 of 2003. … The record for youngest Monster Energy Series Charlotte winner is held by Jeff Gordon at the age of 22 years, 9 months and 25 days (May 29, 1994). … The record for the oldest Monster Energy Series Charlotte winner is held by Cale Yarborough at the age of 46 years, 6 months and 9 days (October 6, 1985). … A total of 10 drivers have posted their first career Monster Energy Series win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven of them were from the Coca-Cola 600: David Pearson (5/28/1961), Jeff Gordon (5/29/1994), Bobby Labonte (5/28/1995), Matt Kenseth (5/28/2000), Casey Mears (5/27/2007), David Reutimann (5/25/2009) and Austin Dillon (5/28/2017).

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Alsco 300

The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, May 25

The Time: 1:00 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 12:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

2018 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski

What To Watch For: There have been 73 NASCAR Xfinity Series points-paying races at Charlotte Motor Speedway producing 47 different pole winners and 35 different race winners. … Of the 47 series pole winners at Charlotte Motor Speedway three are active this weekend – Austin Dillon (three), Justin Allgaier and Morgan Shepherd (one each). … Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth lead the series in poles at Charlotte with four each. … Dillon leads all active drivers in poles at Charlotte with three (2013, 2015 sweep) . … A total of 10 different drivers have posted their first NASCAR Xfinity Series career pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway – none are entered this weekend. … Series track record for youngest Charlotte pole winner is held by Chase Elliott at the age of 18 years, 10 months and 12 days (October 10, 2014). Series track record for the oldest Charlotte pole winner is held by Harry Gant at the age of 48 years, 8 months and 28 days (October 8, 1988). … Of the 35 NASCAR Xfinity Series Charlotte Motor Speedway race winners two are active this weekend – Austin Dillon (two wins: 2015 sweep) and Jeff Green (two wins: 2001, 2002) . … NASCAR Xfinity Series winningest driver, Kyle Busch, leads the series in wins at Charlotte with eight victories. … The third starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (13) than any other starting position at Charlotte Motor Speedway – a winning percentage of 17.8%. … The first starting position has produced 12 winners (16.4%) at Charlotte Motor Speedway; including Austin Dillon’s two victories in 2015. … Plus, 57 of the 73 series races (78.08%) at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been won by drivers starting inside the top-10. … The deepest in the field that a NASCAR Xfinity Series race winner has started at Charlotte is 33rd, by Harry Gant in the October, 1991 race; the record for the May race is held by Kasey Kahne, when he won from the 32nd starting position in 2007. … The record for youngest NASCAR Xfinity Series Charlotte winner is held by Kyle Busch at the age of 19 years, 0 months and 27 days (May 29, 2004). … The record for the oldest NASCAR Xfinity Series Charlotte winner is held by Harry Gant at the age of 51 years, 8 months and 25 days (October 5, 1991). … A total of nine different drivers have posted their first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Charlotte Motor Speedway – the most recent was Alex Bowman (Oct. 2017).

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