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The 600 Has Become A Sprint Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018

There is no more pacing one’s self in NASCAR’s longest race. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

CONCORD, N.C. – For several decades, the Coca-Cola 600 was an endurance race with the final 100 miles often a mechanical nightmare, but technology has changed the way drivers approach Sunday’s Memorial Day classic.

 “It’s 400 laps as fast as the car will go,” says Kevin Harvick, who starts stock car racing’s longest race at the rear of the field due to his car failing inspection.  “If you don’t do it that way, you’re gonna wind up a lap down; you’re gonna make a mistake throughout the day that you’re gonna need a cushion to not wind up a lap down because it’s just such a long race.  

“You’re gonna have something that you have to battle through at some particular point, whether it’s a decision of using a set of tires or missing pit road or having a bad pit stop. Whatever the scenario is, if you aren’t going hard every lap or you have something in your mindset that you’re not gonna go hard every lap, somebody is gonna lap you and you won’t win this race.”

Matt Kenseth, whose first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory came in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600, agreed with Harvick, saying one now approaches a 600-mile race no different than a 300-mile event.

“There is no more pacing yourself or choosing a certain gear because you want your engine to live,” said Kenseth, who qualified 17th. “All of that stuff is kind of in the past, so it’s different and everybody just runs as hard as they can every lap for five hours to try to get the best finish you can because you just can’t afford to give up spots. You can’t afford to pace yourself and let somebody in front of you because you might not ever get back around them.

“There’s not a ton of attrition and problems and the survival thing isn’t quite what it once was.”

That wasn’t the case when Kyle Petty won the 1987 Coca-Cola 600. In that race, there were 12 engine failures with three coming in the final 100 miles. Other failures were camshaft, rear end, A-frame, water pump, electrical and oil line.

Kenseth noted the cars were no longer as adjustable as they once were and that was a problem since the 1.5-mile track goes through a fairly big change. However, he said the cars were “certainly more comfortable” and there were “more creature comforts” than existed when he joined the Cup Series fulltime in 2000.

Stage racing, implemented in 2017, also has changed the approach to the Coca-Cola 600. The 400-lap race is the only four-stage event in NASCAR. All of the other races in the top three national touring series are divided into three stages.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 23rd, said racing was different when he began his fulltime Cup career in 2002.

“The whole environment was different on the track,” Johnson continued. “The Mark Martin way of working with somebody and let them go, they will let you go and playing that game, it’s just out the window now.

“(Also), as the cars continue to get faster and faster, it’s just harder and harder to make competitive passes. You fight for track position starting … in qualifying and carries right on through 600 miles.”

Kyle Busch, driving a Toyota, earned the pole position for this year’s Coca-Cola 600 with a lap of 191.836 mph, 28.149 seconds. Joining him on the front row is Ford’s Joey Logano with a 191.218-mph, 28.240-second lap.

The race is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Fox.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2018
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