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Race Day: The Concord Marathon

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2010

They're back at Charlotte for today's/tonight's Coca-Cola 600 – one of the top races on the schedule. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

From time to time – usually right about this time of the year – the subject of establishing an official Triple Crown or Grand Slam for Sprint Cup comes up. Some say making certain races a bit more important than others would add to the sport’s interest level.

And after they say that, the next thing they say is: Which three or four races would you pick to be included?

Daytona, of course. After that, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, night race at Bristol, the fall race in Richmond get mentions.

The Coca-Cola 600? It is on just about everybody’s list.

This week, a select group of current Cup drivers were asked what they thought about the 600 – to be run tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway – in terms of prestige. Here is what they said:

Jeff Burton: “It’s pretty high. I think all the drivers have different thoughts on what the big races are, but I do believe that the Coke 600 comes in everybody’s conversation.  Obviously you hear Daytona, you hear Indy, you hear the Coke 600 and then for some people it’s Darlington, for some people it’s the hometown track; it depends on what you are and what you personally feel.  I think the Coke 600 is a really big race.  It’s so unique because it is 600 miles and when you go back and look at who’s won this race, it’s pretty cool.  I think it’s pretty far up there.”

Kevin Harvick: “On my list it ranks pretty low, but I’m a little bit biased the wrong way I guess because it’s been just such a tough place for us.  In the sport, I think it’s obviously an important race just for the fact that it has a lot of history and it’s a really long race and it’s right in everybody’s backyard.  Hopefully we have a good weekend; a good, solid weekend is really what we’re looking for this week.”

Mark Martin: I’ve said this before and I will say it again. You don’t get to chose which races you win. If you are lucky, you just get to win some. So, I believe we have won it, but to me, I have always stayed focused on winning another one rather than what the one that we did in the past really meant. At some point, in my career, I’m sure I’ll look back and remember that I won a couple of Southern 500s and the 600. Hopefully maybe a Brickyard and a Daytona 500 too. Right now at this time, I stay pretty much focused on how we are going to get the next one.”

Fast facts

What: Coca-Cola 600

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway; Concord, N.C.

When: Today, 6 p.m. ET

TV: Fox, 5 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

Grandstand seating: 140,000

First race: World 600 in 1960

First race winner: Joe Lee Johnson

Race distance: 400 laps/600 miles

Estimated pit window: 50-55 laps

2009 winner: David Reutimann

2009 polesitter: Ryan Newman

Today’s polesitter:  Ryan Newman

Trivia time

Who was the last Ford driver to win a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Burton dopes out feud

Jeff Burton was asked about Busch vs. Hamlin, which flared big time last weekend in the All-Star race at Charlotte.

“Actually,” he said, “I’ll confess on Saturday night I was watching all that and I wonder what effect will that have. My concern was that it would just make them both want it more, and that may not be in our best interest.  They’re both very good race car drivers; obviously, their equipment is very good and it might piss them off and put them in a position where they’re trying even harder.  ’m not sure that that would be a good thing for us.  We always try to make a determination on how people are going to respond to certain situations, but everybody is different.  Everybody responds to things differently; you just don’t know.  We’ll be talking about something else in a couple weeks most likely and they’ll move on from it and there will be another conversation.”

Charlotte tidbits

Number of race: 102

Youngest pole winner: Jeff Gordon (10/10/93 – 22 years, 2 months 6 days)

Oldest pole winner: Bobby Allison (10/11/87 – 49, 10, 8)

Youngest race winner: Jeff Gordon (5/29/94 – 22, 9, 25)

Oldest race winner: Cale Yarborough (10/6//85 – 46, 6, 9)

Races won from pole: 14

Last race won from pole: 10/17/2009 (Jimmie Johnson)

Most lead changes in race: 54 (1979)

Most cautions: 22 (2005)

Most races by driver: Richard Petty (64)

Most poles: David Pearson (14)

Most wins: 6 (Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip)

Most top-five finishes: 23 (Richard Petty and Bobby Allison)

Most lead-lap finishes: 27 (Mark Martin)

Most laps completed: 20,294 (Ricky Rudd)

Best average finish by current driver (minimum five races): Jimmie Johnson (8.6)

Martin on hard tire

Goodyear has brought a very hard tire to Charlotte this spring. Good or bad?

Mark Martin said, “I would but in defense of Goodyear, I don’t think they really have a solution for that. I think a softer tire would blister and fail. We are not having tire failures. Kudos to Goodyear for that.

“Part of the problem we have is the composition of the asphalt. I am no chemist, but I can tell you it is different and it has different requirements for the tire.  Goodyear, at this time, is doing the best that it can to make durable tires for it and you have what you have. If the asphalt was the same chemistry as the asphalt was laid 15 years ago, we would be back to soft tires and the tire would be wearing and giving up. But that would be because of the pavement and the way the pavement reacted to age. This pavement doesn’t react to age the same way.

“Las Vegas, here, Darlington. I’ve been racing Darlington since 1981 was the first time I went there, was always the same and now this last batch is a different animal and will continue, it is not going to go back to the old Darlington any time soon.”

First timers

Charlotte has been a great place for drivers to get their first Cup victories. These drivers all got No. 1 at Charlotte: David Reutimann, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kensth and Casey Mears.

Trivia answer

Mark Martin was the last Ford driver to win at Charlotte. That was in the 2002 Coke 600.

Up next

The Cup series heads to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. for next weekend’s Pocono 500. Tony Stewart is the defending race winner in that race.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 30 2010
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