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Next Challenge For Next Gen Is 600-Mile Grind

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2022

Denny Hamlin will start the 600-miler at Charlotte Motor Speedway from the pole. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR Cup champion Kurt Busch has endured 21 Coca-Cola 600s, and the Las Vegas native believes the handling conditions, the Next Gen car, and the temperatures will make this year’s Memorial Day weekend event at Charlotte Motor Speedway more difficult than the others.

“The Next Gen car has its challenges,” said Busch, who qualified second for stock car racing’s longest event with a 183.661-mph, 29.402-second lap in a Toyota. “And we don’t know what to expect with the traction spray and the way that it’s been racing. It looks like it just keeps getting higher and higher and higher.”

Ever since the Coca-Cola 600 made its debut in 1960 as the World 600, it has been an arduous event. Year-after-year the race’s final 100 miles have taken a toll on the driver’s and the car’s durability. However, attrition this year may not rest with the car’s durability.

 “I think the car is plenty durable from the parts and pieces perspective to run 600 miles,” said Denny Hamlin, who earned the pole Saturday night with a 183.680-mph, 29.399-second lap in a Toyota.

“The question is what risks are we willing to take with the car, running it up by the wall. I think at some point you’re going to have to be running right up against the wall. If you step over, your liable to do damage to your car and then it’s not going to last 600 miles. That’s why I worked mostly on the bottom in (turns) three and four. I just wanted some options to find speed when I need to that’s not as risky.”

Busch notes this year’s car is driven much harder than the previous one because it sticks better, forcing the tires into the track and the diffuser lower.

“Now you’re trying to learn the feel of a tire drop off and overdriving and still having good lap times,” Busch said. “The left rear tire has been fragile on this car. A lot of guys have had trouble. Will the tires go 50 laps while you’re pushing hard in a new sequence with the car?”

Hamlin said his team cut some of their tires apart Saturday to study them.

With the 400-lap race on the 1.5-mile track starting in the evening and going into the night, making the proper adjustments on the car for the changing track is critical. Hamlin says that can be tricky with the Next Gen car. 

“With the old car, you would see a crew member put a wedge wrench in and put a round in or take it out,” Hamlin said after Toyota swept the top four starting positions. “For some reason, if we make an adjustment on these cars of half a turn with a wedge bolt it’s huge. It affects this car way more than the previous car.”

The teams are still learning the car’s nuances and Joey Logano believes that could result in possibly more mental than physical exhaustion for the drivers.

“This car doesn’t accept mistakes very well, where the old car you can overcook the entry a little bit, you slide up and it’s all right,” explained Logano, who qualified 23rd. “This thing, you get in there a little too hot and you swap ends pretty quick.”

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Eastern on FOX.

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NASCAR Cup Series qualifying for the 63rd Annual COCA-COLA 600
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Concord, North Carolina
Saturday, May 28, 2022

1. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 183.680 mph.
2. (45) Kurt Busch, Toyota, 183.661 mph.
3. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 183.655 mph.
4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 183.505 mph.
5. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 182.927 mph.
6. (2) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 182.303 mph.
7. (23) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 182.291 mph.
8. (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 182.199 mph.
9. (48) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 182.168 mph.
10. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 181.087 mph.
11. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford
12. (99) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet
13. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet
14. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota
15. (14) Chase Briscoe, Ford
16. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet
17. (21) Harrison Burton #, Ford
18. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford
19. (17) Chris Buescher, Ford
20. (31) Justin Haley, Chevrolet
21. (41) Cole Custer, Ford
22. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet
23. (22) Joey Logano, Ford
24. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford
25. (43) Erik Jones, Chevrolet
26. (15) Ryan Preece(i), Ford
27. (16) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet
28. (42) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet
29. (47) Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
30. (38) Todd Gilliland #, Ford
31. (78) BJ McLeod, Ford
32. (77) Josh Bilicki
33. (51) Cody Ware, Ford
34. (50) Kaz Grala(i), Chevrolet
35. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford
36. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet
37. (7) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 29 2022
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