NASCAR‘s longest race of the year is set for Sunday with the 61st running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
During the annual Memorial Day weekend race, the NASCAR industry will come together to honor and remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom. Each driver in the race will carry the name of a fallen service member across the windshield of their car. Also, after the conclusion of Stage 2 all drivers will bring their cars down pit road for a moment of silence.
“The 600 is a race I always look forward to,” said Chase Elliott. “It‘s great to be a small part of what NASCAR does around Memorial Day. The sport has done a great job recognizing the real heroes. The very least we can do is show appreciation for all the men and women who are serving our country. We can never say thank you to them enough. I look forward to continuing the tradition this weekend.”
NASCAR.com: 600 Miles of Remembrance
The Coca-Cola 600 kicks off a busy four-day stretch of racing at Charlotte that includes the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Monday, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series on Tuesday and a 208-lap race for the Cup Series on Wednesday. MRN will have radio coverage of just the Gander Trucks race (7:30 p.m. ET) and PRN will have the radio coverage for the other events from Charlotte. The 600 will see qualifying for the first time since the return to racing with the session slated to begin at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Toyota has won the last three races on the Charlotte 1.5-mile oval with Martin Truex Jr. winning his second 600 last season. Truex brings some momentum into this year’s race as he is coming off his first two top-10 finishes of the season this past week at Darlington Raceway in NASCAR’s return to racing.
“I feel like we‘re right there and James (Small, crew chief) is doing an awesome job,” Truex Jr. said. “We‘ve been consistently scoring more points than our teammates except for at the end of the race so we‘re trying to figure that out. Feel like he‘s done all the right things and we continue to get better each week.”
Due to the rescheduling of races due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunday’s race will mark just the second held at a 1.5-mile track this season. Joey Logano won his first of two events this season at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway back on Feb. 23. Along with Logano, that race saw four drivers lead at least 30 laps with Kevin Harvick (92) and Elliott (70) leading the most. Elliott won both stages in that race, but finished 26th after a flat tire took him out of contention.
Elliott comes into Charlotte on the heels of his worst finish of the season at Darlington, 38th. Elliott suffered his first DNF in the closing laps when Kyle Busch made contact with him while racing for second. Busch, who will compete in his fourth straight race since NASCAR’s return Sunday, said that Elliott and him have talked and that the conversation “went really well.”
“I learned that he made a mistake and I was on the wrong end of it,” Elliott said. “But he apologized to me. Unfortunately, that doesn‘t change the result, so at the end of the day, it still cost us a shot at a win. And at the end of the day, that‘s really the bulk of what matters to me and my team because we‘re in the business to perform more than anything.”
See Also: Elliott on Kyle Busch Incident
Busch has finished third or better in his last three 600s, including a win in 2018 when he led 377 laps. He ranks second to his teammate Truex Jr. (872) in laps led in the last five 600-mile races with 519.
“I‘ve been in races in the 600-mile race where it‘s felt really easy and short, and I‘ve been in races where it‘s been a long, drawn-out, knock ‘em, sock ‘em kind of day,” Busch said. “Hopefully, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys can bring a really good M&M‘S Red, White & Blue Camry for me this weekend and it will be a smooth race for us.”
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Truex Jr. and Busch are two of the seven drivers in the field that have won the Coca-Cola 600 that includes Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Matt Kenseth. Johnson, who leads all drivers with eight overall wins at Charlotte with four in the 600 and four in the 500-mile fall race when it was held on the 1.5-mile speedway, will be most likely making his last two points-paying starts on the oval.
“There is no doubt I’ll have a flood of emotions when we start our engines these next two races,” Johnson said. “I’m going to miss it.”
Pit stall selections for Sunday’s race are set and were determined by the finishing order of the race this past Wednesday at Darlington. Toyota 500 winner Denny Hamlin will have the first pit selection. He’s finished in the top five in three of the last four races at the Charlotte oval.
“We‘re excited because we were extremely fast last year at the Coke 600 and I think we blew three tires,” Hamlin said. “Every time we hit the wall, our car just kept going faster — it was pretty amazing. Finally, the last smash into the wall killed it. Our car was so fast, I couldn‘t wait to get back to Charlotte and we get to race two times on the oval there that I think it‘s an opportunity to rack up more wins to be honest.”
See Also: Charlotte Pit Stall Selections