Coca-Cola 600 Story Lines

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and says he wants to end that drought. (Photo: Getty Images)


CONCORD, N.C. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. won an All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but that was 14 years ago. He’s never won a Sprint Cup points race at this track.

For all the times Earnhardt came to his home track to watch his father race and all the memories he has of hanging out in the infield or in the condos, this track has special meaning.

“I want to win a points race here so bad because we live just right down the road,’’ said Earnhardt, who starts 10th in today’s Coca-Cola 600 “I’ve been coming here since I’ve been a kid. Once they built those condos over there in (Turn) 1 we never missed a race.

“We watched a lot of races over on the last corner of the road course up on the hill with most of our family and all the Eurys and everybody. We just always came here, and it’s frustrating that I haven’t won a race here other than the All-Star event. We’ve had some good cars but not anywhere near good enough. There are a lot of other race tracks where I think, ‘Man we were really close’ or the car was fast enough, but I’ve never really had a car here that I thought we had it, we were walking away and we gave it away. We always seem to get outrun here but hopefully this weekend we can change that.”

Earnhardt’s quest for win this Memorial Day weekend is among the story lines heading into the Coca-Cola 600.

Jeff Gordon

He ran 11 laps in Saturday morning’s practice session and climbed out of the car, skipping the rest of that session and the final practice session because of back spasms.

Gordon told Motor Racing Network after the drivers meeting Sunday: “I think we should be arlight. I'm not 100 percent, but I feel a lot better than I did yesterday. I've got a good team on the race track preparing a great car and off the track as well that did a nice job getting me ready.

“If I get in there, I don't think I'll be getting out. We'll see what happens. I feel good enough to do it right now.’’

Regan Smith will be Gordon’s standby driver today, but Ray Evernham doesn’t think Gordon - who starts 27th - will need a replacement.

“As long as he’s breathing and his heart is beating, he’s in the race,’’ said Evernham, Gordon's former crew chief. “The guy is tougher than people think. We won the Southern 500 one time and he started throwing up at halfway, threw up all day. I’ve seen him win (Sonoma) and Watkins Glen with a hole in his hand with skin hanging off it.’’

Kurt Busch

He’s attempting to become the fourth driver to race in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Many will be watching to see how he’ll do in his first IndyCar race before he’s scheduled to head to Charlotte.

Should there be an issue or complications and Busch does not make it to Charlotte in time for the start of the race, Parker Kligerman will drive the car until Busch arrives. 

If Busch misses the driver’s meeting in Charlotte, which will happen if he completes the Indianapolis 500, he’ll start at the rear of the field. Busch is looking to be the first driver to attempt this feat in 10 years, joining John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Changing Conditions

With a race that starts under the sun and ends under the stars, conditions will vary. Add that Charlotte Motor Speedway is among the most temperature-sensitive tracks on the circuit and the challenge for drivers and crew chiefs becomes greater.

It’s not uncommon to see someone strong in the early portion of the race and struggle when temperatures cool and the track changes.

“You just have to keep up with the car and always try and stay on the lead lap through the beginning part of the race knowing that your car is going to need to handle a lot different as you get to night, said Kevin Harvick, who has won the 600 twice in the last three years. “It’s an interesting challenge. It’s a long night. You are never out of the race unless you are torn up. You don’t want to get yourself torn up or make a dumb mistake early in the race because you can always make your car right by the end.”

Carl Edwards, who was fastest in Saturday’s final practice session, is prepared for the challenge the conditions will play.

“I think when the race starts we should be pretty good, but the track changes a lot so we’re not exactly sure how to keep up with it yet,’’ said Edwards, who starts 22nd. “We’re working on it.“

Kyle Busch

His record at Charlotte is remarkable - if one looks only at his performance in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races. Busch has eight Nationwide wins and six Truck victories at this track, but he’s never won a Cup race at this track.

Moments after setting the fastest lap at the time in Saturday final practice session, Busch bounced off the wall. His team went to a backup car, and he’ll start at the rear of the field in the 600. 

Busch’s description of what happened in his incident?

“Dirty air, wrecked, went to a backup car, start in the back and see how we run,’’ he said.

Chip Ganassi Racing

Jamie McMurray won last weekend’s Sprint All-Star race. Kyle Larson won Saturday’s Nationwide race. Ganassi’s IndyCar teams have shown speed in race trim for the Indianapolis 500. Oh yes, Saturday was Ganassi’s 56th birthday.

Ganassi’s IndyCar team has won three of the last six Indianapolis 500s with each of those victories coming in an even-numbered year. Ganassi has never had a car win the Coca-Cola 600. 

Could this be the year?


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