In handicapping Memorial Day weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, usually the first item on the agenda is to review what happened the week before in the All-Star Race, also held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s the freshest and newest notes applicable on the exact, identical track with temperatures that figure to be similar.
However, this season is different. We had somewhat of a preview into what the future of the NASCAR Cup Series might have in store for us with races on the 1.5-mile tracks Kevin Harvick has dominated this season. NASCAR wouldn’t have used the restrictor-plate and new areo-package in last week’s All-Star Race if they didn’t have plans for it somewhere in the future. Because the All-Star Race offered no points, it was a perfect place to check out how the racing would be.
This week in NASCAR’s longest race of the year we go back to the regular rules-package, which Harvick has been dominating. He’s won five of the 12 races this season and three of four on 1.5-mile tracks. Kyle Busch has three wins including the one race on a 1.5-mile track (Texas) Harvick didn’t win. Harvick finished second in that race.
Busch is still a notch below Harvick on these tracks and the next wave of top competitors are two notches below Harvick. Among those drivers are last year’s Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who won on seven of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017. Kyle Larson made huge strides at Kansas two weeks ago leading a race-high 101 laps and finishing fourth. Team Penske with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney are all right there. So are Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Erik Jones.
There is some hope this week for a new face winning. The big difference for Harvick this week from the other races so far on 1.5s is the changing conditions of the track and the distance. Harvick’s wins at Las Vegas and Kansas were 400 miles and the extra 200 miles this week mean about four additional pit stops where things are out of Harvick’s control and in the hands of five guys attempting to change four tires and get two cans of fuel in the tank in less than 16 seconds.
The other major dilemma the Coca-Cola 600 presents for every crew chief is getting the proper changes made during the pits stops as the conditions change. If you don’t adapt to the changing temperatures, you don’t win. The race starts in the sunlight (6:15 p.m. ET), goes to twilight and then dusk. This is another area Harvick could have issues with.
Yes, I’m starting to believe he is Superman. Harvick has 34 starts at Charlotte in points-paying races and has three wins, the last coming in the fall of 2014. Last season it was Austin Dillon winning the Coca-Cola 600, which paid out at 100-to-1 odds for the first win of his career.