My Sundays on Memorial Day weekend have always been my favorite day of the year.
It’s the most intense full day of auto racing. It begins early in the morning with the Formula-1 race at Monte Carlo, an afternoon of racing at the Brickyard for the Indianapolis 500 and closes down with NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s just NASCAR racing by itself Sunday in Charlotte after they restarted the 2020 season last week with two races at Darlington.
But the way my schedule has been the last 10 weeks, I don’t know if I would be well equipped to handle such a string of live racing events that last about 14 hours. I need to regain my sports viewing stamina in smaller doses before I can go full throttle like a normal Memorial Day Sunday.
So it’ll just be immediate family and myself watching the Coca-Cola 600, in the same manner my grandfather, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, did.
We always watched the Indy 500 together as he grilled some kind of meat and he always told me how special this day was to him because of seeing several of his friends die during the war. This was the day of honoring his friends and the Indy 500 always happened to be on television.
I’ve always kept grandpa and his friends in my thoughts as well as all the fallen soldiers in an annual toast, and we’ll do it again Sunday. But it’ll happen later in the day this year with the Coca-Cola 600 being the sole star.
The part of our family Memorial Day tradition that I started was betting in all three races, although finding a sportsbook in the early 1990s to book the Monte Carlo race was hard to find. This year, it’s just NASCAR action and I’ll have to do so with no practices being run. However, they will have a qualifying session unlike last week at Darlington.
The beauty of the Coca-Cola 600 is that it’s an endurance race that runs through daylight, dusk, twilight and night, combining for 400 laps on the 1.5-mile high banked oval. The cars run differently at each of the stages as it gets cooler and the team that makes the best adjustments on the fly to maintain top speed usually gets the win.
Here’s a look at the top candidates to win Sunday’s race:
No. 19 Martin Truex Jr. (7-1): Despite the appearance of missing crew chief Cole Pearn so far in 2020, his Charlotte record has been amazing. His last eight races on the oval have produced seven top-fives. He’s won three of the last six races there, and two of the last three, including last season.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (25-1): He’s the active Charlotte leader in wins (8), top-fives (16), top-10s (22), and laps led (1,930). Even in his down years the past two seasons he finished eighth and fifth. With Hendrick showing great speed this season this is a great spot for him to show he’s not ready for retirement.
No. 18 Kyle Busch (6-1): He got his first Charlotte Cup Series win in the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 leading 377 of the 400 laps. He’s led laps in the last five Charlotte races and 1,449 laps overall.
No. 4 Kevin Harvick (6-1): He’s proved to be the most consistent so far in 2020 and he’s a three-time Charlotte winner, twice winning the Coca-Cola 600.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin (12-1): He’s had 27 Cup races on the Charlotte oval without any wins but his 12.2 average finish is second-best in the series behind Johnson’s 12th-place average. Nine top-fives finishes and top-10s in 14 of his last 17 starts.
No. 88 Alex Bowman (12-1): He’s getting into elite status each race he runs and looks like the second-coming of Jimmie Johnson where he has a chance to win on every cookie-cutter layout. He’s had top-10s his last two Coca-Colas, now it’s time to get a win.
Back at Darlington
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway gave us all some insight into how to bet Wednesday night’s Toyota 500 race there, but don’t expect Harvick to be as dominant.
His 50th career Cup win is more of a tribute to what his engineers did in Charlotte because his car came off the hauler in perfect condition ready to roll. No practices and no qualifying had a few teams playing catch-up during the race, but Harvick showed he didn’t need practice as he led 159 of the 293 laps.
But Wednesday’s race will be different. Harvick may use the exact same car again, but other teams learned a lot from the race and will have the set-up of their machines better, lessening the chance that Harvick can run away again.
Wednesday’s race at Darlington is only 228 laps and it is at night which will change the set-up requirements slightly from Sunday’s. Saving tires will be one of the biggest issues on the gritty asphalt as is always the case. And the best there is at saving tires at Darlington has been Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth Sunday to drop his career average finish down to 7.6 which includes two wins.
The mid-week race was forced upon by the pandemic to make up dates lost on the schedule, but I have a feeling we’re going to like it a lot and let’s hope it becomes a regular part of the Cup schedule moving forward due to big ratings and the drivers liking more gaps in their regular schedule.