2020 COCA-COLA 600 - EVENT NOTEBOOK
IT'S QUEEN CITY TIME - Now with two races completed in NASCAR’s return to racing following the stoppage due to the COVID-19 outbreak, NASCAR moves on to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a pair of NASCAR Cup Series races over four days.
The homestand starts off with the traditional Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 24, at 6 p.m. ET (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). That race is followed up three days later by the Alsco Uniforms 500 in a mid-week prime-time race on Wednesday, May 27, at 8 p.m. ET (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
While the Coca-Cola 600 is taking place during it’s originally scheduled slot in the schedule, the Alsco Uniforms 500 is replacing what would have been the road course race at Sonoma in June.
This marks the third of the three Cup Series race realignments announced by NASCAR earlier this month. The two Darlington races earlier this week took the place of Chicagoland’s June date and the spring Richmond race that was originally slated for April.
In a statement, NASCAR said, "Due to the current pandemic, NASCAR has faced several difficult decisions, including realigning race dates from several race tracks. These decisions were made following thorough collaboration with local and state government officials from across the country, including the areas of the affected race tracks. We thank all our fans for their support, and we look forward to our return to racing."
THE 600 MILES OF REMEMBRANCE - In what has become an annual tradition during the Coca-Cola 600, the names of U.S. Armed Forces members who sacrificed their lives for our country will be proudly displayed on the windshields of each of the 40 NASCAR Cup Series cars participating in the race.
Several of the names were chosen due to personal connections the team or sponsor had to the fallen service members.
Three of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars will feature the names of soldiers killed on May 23, 2011, when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in the country’s eastern Kunar province. The deaths of Staff Sergeant Kristofferson Lorenzo (will be on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford), Private First Class William Blevins (on the No. 10 of Aric Almirola) and Private First Class Andrew Krippner (on the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer) had an impact on team fabricator Matthew Ridgway, a U.S. Army veteran. While Ridgway did not know the three men personally, he would later serve in the same battalion as the fallen soldiers honored on the team’s cars.
Kurt Busch and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet will carry the name of U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Philip Grieser on the windshield during Sunday’s race. Grieser was the chief of Seabee team 1013 and was killed in a base attack in 1969 while serving in the Vietnam War. His son, Doug Newell, is an electrician for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Brennan Poole’s No. 15 Spartan Mosquito Chevy Camaro will proudly honor SFC. Nathan Ross
Chapman from 1st Special Forces Group. Chapman, from San Antonio, Texas, was killed on January 4, 2002, in Khost, Afghanistan. Three members of the Spartan Mosquito family also served in the 1st Special Forces Group.
With Sunday’s race to run without fans or special guests in attendance, each of the families honored as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance on Sunday will receive an acrylic replica of the racecar header with the fallen service member’s name and rank from NASCAR and Coca-Cola. Additionally, Coca-Cola is hosting a private pre-race virtual concert by country artist Justin Moore for Gold Star Families.
Charlotte Motor Speedway will continue its long-standing tradition of military tributes in recognition of Memorial Day Weekend. In addition to the pre-race military flyover, the race broadcast on FOX will capture a moment of silence at the conclusion of Stage 2, when all cars will stop on pit road to honor to the fallen.
SAFETY KLEEN EXPANDS PRESENCE - As the NASCAR industry moves from Darlington Raceway to Charlotte Motor Speedway to continue racing this weekend, ensuring that the track is a clean and safe location to race is of utmost concern during these times.
Beginning last week at Darlington, and continuing this weekend in Charlotte and beyond, NASCAR’s expanded partnership with Clean Harbors, the parent company of Safety Kleen, includes disinfection and decontamination services to prepare the tracks and clean the inbound haulers and equipment used during the race weekend.
“As NASCAR returns to racing, it’s essential that our drivers, teams and staff are safe at the track,” said John Bobo, NASCAR’s vice president of racing operations. “We appreciate the expanded partnership with Clean Harbors during these unprecedented times, as they will play a critical role in the ongoing disinfection of our facilities leading into and during race weekends.”
BEST OF THE RESTART - While clearly the fans at home were the big winners in NASCAR’s return to racing this week, on the track it was Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin who took home the hardware from the first two races following the resumption of competition.
And not only did they each win (Harvick – Sunday’s event, Hamlin – on Wednesday night), but they put together exceptional average finishes in the two races.
Harvick followed up the win with a third-place finish in Wednesday’s event, posting an average finish of 2.0 in the return. Hamlin placed fifth in the opener at Darlington and therefore posted an average finish of 3.0 in the two races.
Two other drivers managed to put together a pair of top-10 finishes in both Darlington starts – Martin Truex Jr. (sixth in the first, 10th in the second race) and Erik Jones (eighth in the first, fifth in the second race).
Matt DiBenedetto had a solid pair of races for Wood Brothers Racing, turning in a 14th-place effort in Sunday’s race and then jumping into the top 10 with a ninth-place finish under the lights on Wednesday. And Aric Almirola also had a productive week at Darlington, finishing 12th in the opener and then seventh on Wednesday.
Another driver who showed consistency in the return was Brad Keselowski, taking his Team Penske Ford to a 13th-place finish on Sunday and then ending the night in fourth on Wednesday.
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS - With his win on Wednesday night, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin became the second driver in 2020 with two visits to Victory Lane. Joey Logano (Las Vegas, Phoenix) is the other. Alex Bowman (Auto Club) and Kevin Harvick (Darlington-1) are the only other drivers with wins this season
If Hamlin is to complete a hat trick on the season next week at Charlotte, he would have to win his first race on the 1.5-mile track to do so. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has an average finish of 12.3 at Charlotte, including a pair of runner-up finishes at the track (both races in 2012). However, his work as of late in the Queen City has been impressive as he has finished in the top five in five of the last seven races at Charlotte.
Logano does have a victory in Charlotte, albeit in the slightly shorter 500-mile fall version that used to run on the oval prior to 2018. He took the win in 2015, and struggled a bit since then. After placing ninth in this May race in 2016, Logano averaged a finish of 26.25 in the next four races (36th, 21st, 26th, 22nd) until his runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600 last spring.
If Bowman continues on the upward trajectory that he has followed in the past year, it’s entirely possible that he could become the third two-time winner of the season, despite Charlotte stats that trend otherwise.
In his first five Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bowman posted an average finish of 32.0. Since taking over the No. 88 full-time in 2018 he has finished ninth and seventh in the Coca-Cola 600. (Of note, his 2016 fall start at Charlotte was also in the No. 88 while filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. – and his effort ended early with a crash on lap 61.)
This could correspond to a trip to Victory Lane at Charlotte for the young driver. At Chicagoland, where he earned his first NASCAR Cup Series win last year, Bowman placed 35th and 37th in his first two races there in 2014 and 2015. He followed that up with a pair of 10th-place results in 2016 and 2018 before the win last year.
And at Auto Club Speedway in California, where he captured his second career win earlier this year, Bowman had an average finish of 22.25 in the four starts before his victory. His previous best was 13th in the 2018 race in Fontana.
Harvick is the 2020 winner with the best record at Charlotte in terms of wins – with three (Coca-Cola 600 in 2011 and 2013, as well as the fall 500-mile event in 2014. He also has eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 36 starts at the track on the oval.
AUSTIN DILLON, BRENNAN POOLE BRING HOME SUPPORT - Austin Dillon and Brennan Poole each announced separate projects to take place over Memorial Day weekend with their corporate partners to provide support to for residents in their hometowns.
Through his collaboration with the GM BuyPower Card®, Dillon is coming to the aid of his local community in advance of the Coca-Cola 600 through a contribution to Pit Stops for Hope.
Pit Stops for Hope, a charitable collaboration within the racing community focused on addressing educational and nutritional needs among the youth, will use the funds from the contribution within the Piedmont-Triad and Charlotte areas of North Carolina to provide meals and educational materials.
"Pit Stops for Hope is an organization close to my heart since it started over 10 years ago, but as I prepare for fatherhood, the mission to support children in poverty has become even more meaningful to me," said Dillon. "So many families across the country are in need right now, and I hope this contribution will offer some much-needed assistance to the city we call home."
In conjunction with his sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600, Spartan Mosquito, Poole will be making an impact off the track for residents and veterans in need in his hometown of Houston, Texas.
Poole has donated a portion of his salary to provide 500,000 meals to his hometown of Houston in support of Houston Food Bank during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In that same spirit of giving and celebrating our nation’s heroes, Poole’s sponsor Spartan Mosquito has committed $125,000 in mosquito products for the city of Houston’s veterans this Memorial Day Weekend.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston Food Bank is distributing unprecedented amounts of food to those in need, about 1 million pounds a day. In fact, the food bank is experiencing a 130%-150% increase in demand over the 1.1 million food insecure people in their service area and is serving 128,333 households per week, a 93% increase from this time last year.
“During this incredibly hard time, it is so important to me to make an impact and provide some relief to the city that built me,” Poole said. “Food fuels our communities. When we support food banks, we directly get food into the hands of those who need it and broaden the strength of our recovery.”
ABOUT THE XFINITY CARS - Charlotte Motor Speedway continues to heat things up for Xfinity Series
The NASCAR Xfinity Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday, May 25 for the Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Due to having no qualifying or practice sessions, the starting lineup will be decided as follows:
Positions 1 -12: The first 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up Eligibility will be assigned starting positions 1st – 12th using a random draw.
Positions 13 – 24: The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 12th- 24th using a random draw.
Starting positions 25 – 36: The next 12 NXS Teams based on the Adverse Conditions Line Up eligibility will be assigned starting positions 25th -36th using a random draw.
Any vehicles that are eligible for the event in position 37th – 40th will be assigned starting positions based on their order of eligibility.
NASCAR officials announced that the field size for the Xfinity Series will be temporarily expanded to a maximum of 40 vehicles for all events without qualifying.
As far as the points structure, the change will not alter the standings much at all. In the Xfinity Series, officials will continue to award a baseline of 40 championship points for first place and one point for 36th (which was formerly the last place) place. As a result, teams finishing 37th through 40th will also receive one point.
Pit selection for Charlotte Motor Speedway will be based on finishing position from Thursday’s race at Darlington followed by new entries in order of points.
After Tuesday’s race was postponed due to rain and moved to Thursday, the Xfinity Series finally got to hit the track for the first time in over two months at Darlington Raceway for the Toyota 200.
Chase Briscoe took home the checkered flag in the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford while battling Kyle Busch on the final lap.
Noah Gragson started from the pole alongside JR Motorsports teammate Michael Annett and won Stage 1, leading 46 laps en route to a fifth-place finish.
Busch led 45 laps at Darlington and won Stage 2 in his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Busch finished runner-up while Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet finished third, Austin Cindric finished fourth in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford and Gragson rounded out the top five.
An emotional Briscoe emerged from his car after bumping and grinding with Busch on the final lap. He and his wife, Marissa, had a heartbreaking week and he dedicated his win to her.
BRISCOE ATOP THE XFINITY POINTS - With his performance on Thursday night at Darlington Raceway, Chase Briscoe took over the points standings by 19 points over second-place Harrison Burton.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Burton had held onto his points lead after finishing in the top five at Phoenix Raceway before the season’s pause. His ninth-place finish at Darlington took away his lead but still has him sitting pretty in second. He is the only driver in the series to have finished in the top 10 in every race so far this season.
Briscoe, who won the Toyota 200 at Darlington in a last-lap battle with veteran Cup Series driver Kyle Busch, also won the season’s second race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He is the first driver this season to win multiple Xfinity Series races.
JR Motorsports’ Noah Gragson won Stage 1 and earned points, moving him up to fourth in the standings.
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS - Harrison Burton may have lost the top spot in the standings after Thursday’s race at Darlington Raceway, but he still leads the Sunoco Rooke of the Year standings and is sitting in second place in the championship points standings.
He has won every single rookie award so far this season and is the only contender in the top 10 in points.
Herbst is currently one spot outside of the top 10 in 11th. He finished 18th at Darlington Raceway and will make his Xfinity Series debut at Charlotte on Monday.
Little is sitting in 22nd place in the points standings and finished 36th at Darlington. He will also be making his Xfinity Series track debut.
Joe Graf Jr. finished 19th at Darlington and Kody Vanderwal finished 32nd. They will both be making their debuts at Charlotte, as well.
JR MOTORSPORTS STRONG HEADED INTO CHARLOTTE - Returning to the racetrack after being off for over two months could have been a difficult task for drivers that usually spend time behind the wheel of their cars multiple times a week. However, it didn’t seem so bad for the JR Motorsports camp of Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and Daniel Hemric.
Three of those JR Motorsports teams finished in the top 10 on Thursday at Darlington Raceway. Allgaier started 10th and finished sixth in Stage 1. He went on to finish second in Stage 2 and finished third at the conclusion of the 147-lap race.
Gragson, who started on the pole, won Stage 1 and finished third in Stage 2. He finished the race in fifth.
Right behind Gragson was Hemric. Hemric runs a part-time schedule for JR Motorsports in the No. 8 Chevrolet. Hemric finished Stage 1 in seventh and Stage 2 in sixth. At the end of the race, Hemric ralled to a sixth-place finish.
Lastly, Annett, who started alongside his teammate Gragson on the front row, finished Stage 1 in ninth and Stage 2 in fifth. Unfortunately in the final stage, Annett went for a spin and ultimately had to head to pit road for repairs, resulting in a 25th-place finish for the No. 1 Chevrolet team.
However, JR Motorsports has shown so much strength in the opening races of the Xfinity Series, especially on Thursday’s return to racing. The team has put up good numbers at the upcoming Charlotte Motor Speedway, too.
Allgaier has 17 starts at the track with four top fives, nine top 10s and one pole award. Annett has 14 starts with three top 10s and Gragson made his first Xfinity Series start at Charlotte last season and finished fourth. Hemric has three starts at the track and finished seventh in his last two starts.
THREE DOWN, FOUR TO GO - Kyle Busch may be the busiest guy in NASCAR right now. The fulltime Cup Series driver is on a quest to run seven races among all three series in 11 days. As NASCAR heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a four-day race schedule, Busch is entered to run both Cup Series races (Sunday, Wednesday), Xfinity (Monday) and Gander Trucks (Tuesday).
Busch was almost victorious on Thursday night at Darlington Raceway when the Xfinity Series hit the track after their race was postpone due to rain. He finished runner-up to Chase Briscoe but battled incredibly hard on the last lap for the win. He also won Stage 2.
Busch finished runner-up the day before in the second Cup Series race at Darlington, too.
The last time Busch ran in the Xfinity Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway was in 2018 and he finished eighth. He has 25 series start to his name with eight wins, 18 top fives, 21 top 10s and two pole awards.
XFINITY SERIES FAST FACTS - Charlotte Motor Speedway is a historic 1.5-mile track with 24 degrees of banking in corners and five degrees of banking on straightaways. The frontstretch is 1,980 feet and the backstretch is 1,500 feet.
Jimmie Johnson holds the Xfinity Series qualifying record at the track with a speed of 187.735 mph on Oct. 14, 2005. Mark Martin holds the race record at the track for the series at 155.799 mph on May 25, 1996.
Kyle Busch holds the record for the most wins (8) at the track and Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are tied for the most poles (4). Busch also has the most top fives (18) and top 10s (21) in the Xfinity Series at Charlotte.
The most lead changes in an Xfinity Series race at the track was 26 in 1984 and the fewest was four in 1991. Ford and Chevrolet are both tired for the most wins by a manufacturer with 21. In 196, there was only one finisher on the lead lap. In 2005, there were 67 caution laps, the most of any race run at he track in the series. And In 1996, there were only six caution laps.
Twelve of the 74 races run were won from the pole position and 14 races were won from the third position.
There have been 36 different race winners and 48 different pole winners at the track for the Xfinity Series.
NASCAR'S TRUCKS - Charlotte awaits the Gander Trucks
After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a two-week break in the schedule prior to the pause in sports, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will be back in action on Tuesday, May 26 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The event will be the third of the 2020 season for the Gander Trucks and the 18th for the series at Charlotte Motor Speedway, located in Concord, North Carolina. The 17 previous series races at the 1.5-mile speedway have produced 10 different poles winners, led by Kyle Busch and Mike Skinner with three each. And eight different winners, led by Kyle Busch with eight victories.
To kick off the year, Grant Enfinger secured the season-opening win at Daytona International Speedway and Kyle Busch returned to the series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and took home the checkered flag.
Last season, Kyle Busch dominated the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway leading 102 of the scheduled 134 laps (76%) and winning his eighth series career race at the track.
POINTS ON POINTS ON POINTS - Although the series is only two races into the season for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks, taking a look at the driver point standings shows us who has been on top of their game since the start of the season.
Hattori Racing Enterprises driver Austin Hill leads the driver standings with 82 points, nine markers up on second-place Johnny Sauter. Hill has one top five and two top 10s in the first two races of the season and has led 11 laps.
Veteran ThorSport Racing driver Sauter is right in Hill’s rearview mirror in second in the Gander Trucks driver standings with 73 points. He also has one top five and two top 10s on the year.
Ben Rhodes sits in third in the series driver standings, 22 points back from driver standings lead, with one top-five finish this season. Rhodes gained a massive 16 spots in the standings after Vegas, and is now just 13 points behind second-place Sauter.
GMS Racing’s Brett Moffitt, the 2018 series champion, is in fourth in the Gander Trucks driver standings following Las Vegas with 59 points, 23 back from Austin Hill in the standings lead.
Moffitt’s GMS Racing teammate Sheldon Creed rounds out the top five in the standings with two top-10 performances in as many races. He has accumulated 58 points this season, 24 back from Hill and just one back from Moffitt.
Looking ahead to the first race back at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hill will have his work cut out for him to hold on to the standings lead as of the top five in points, Rhodes has the best average finish on the 1.54-mile track with a 4.8; followed by Moffitt (5.3), Creed (12.0), Sauter (12.1) and Hill (13.8).