Saturday, May 29, 2010

Coca-Cola 600: Charlotte Sprint Cup Wins Somehow Evading Busch Brothers

by Micah Roberts
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The city of Las Vegas was beaming with pride last week as Kurt Busch grabbed the $1 million prize for winning NASCAR's version of the All-Star race. It was a nice story to see one of our home-grown boys grab the national spotlight, but while we were all sipping our Miller Lite's celebrating, many of us all kind of wondered how come neither of the Busch brothers have yet to win a real points Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

How could this be? Charlotte Motor Speedway -- the center of the NASCAR racing world where they just erected the sports Hall of Fame.
This is where all the greats have laid their claim and captured a piece of NASCAR history by winning races. This is where everyone who is part of NASCAR moves to, including the Busch brothers. This is the track where Mr Viva-Las Vegas, Elvis Presley, starred as Steve Grayson in the movie "Speedway." They are two of the best drivers in NASCAR, but don't own any Sprint Cup wins at Charlotte.

When going through all the great wins of the Busch bothers, it is shocking that they haven't won, especially Kyle who now has nine career wins on the famed track after winning Saturday's Nationwide race.

The brothers still have yet to win the Brickyard 400 or Daytona 500, but the way they have raced at the highest level on tracks similar to Charlotte is the puzzling part. They have combined to win on the high-banked 1.5-mile sister tracks of places like Texas, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, but still no dice in Charlotte.

For Kurt Busch, his All-Star win last week wasn't much of a surprise considering that he had just won in Atlanta earlier this season. In fact, Busch also won at Atlanta and Texas last season -- his only wins of late have been on these type of tracks.

While other drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Jeff Gordon have all their wins on these types translate well onto the other like-tracks, Kurt Busch has never had any real consistent success at Charlotte. His average finish position of 21.0 is very mediocre and he's only finished in the top-five three times in those 19 previous starts.

Kyle Busch has fared much better than Kurt at Charlotte, especially in the last three seasons of racing there. He's gone five straight races of finishing no worse than eighth and has had the second-best average finish while driving the new COT at Charlotte. Over the four race span whiling driving the COT, no one has led more laps than Kyle, so what gives?

"You want to win this race," said Kyle Busch. "I was close last year, leading all the laps and then getting the thing called by rain just after we had pitted and didn't stay out. The year before that, we were really fast there. I think we ran third or something. I'd like to win this race. Like I said, it's my favorite racetrack and, to win the 600, it's one of the races on my list before I'm done.

''Being the longest race of the year, it is a grueling event, it is a tiresome race, but for me, racing everything I can every weekend, I seem to knock that out of there. Four hundred laps around there might seem like a long way, but when you're in the seat and you have a good-driving race car, it's not that long."

Kyle Busch has won on 14 race tracks, but Charlotte has eluded him for some reason, which really pains him because of what this facility means to NASCAR.

"Winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, since it is my favorite track, would be really special since I've been able to win there in other series and have been close a lot in the Cup car. It seems like the month of May at Charlotte just doesn't like me too much. We got to win in the truck race there last weekend, so I'm hoping we can change that. There are plenty of other tracks that we need to win at, too, but there's no doubt Charlotte and the Coke 600 would be big."

This could be the week it changes and the Vegas boys give their fans something to celebrate. During the final two practice sessions on Saturday, Kurt Busch looked just as good as he did last week even though he'll be using a different chassis. The notes from last week's perfect set-up are still fresh and should be easily duplicated.

"I've gotta figure out this race a little better than we have been and hopefully having Steve Addington in our camp this time around will be really helpful in doing just that," said Busch, whose best finish in the Coca-Cola 600 was the 11th he posted during his 2004 championship season.

"I've seemed to always struggle in the Coke 600 before, but we're really looking forward to it this time around. You have to figure out how to be at your very best at night under the lights. It's a real marathon – 600 miles – out there and you have to stay on top of a continuously changing track. You really have to get your car handling well on the long runs. Then, you have to consider all those restarts that we'll likely have as the race winds down. It's definitely the biggest challenge that we face in our sport."

Kyle Busch wasn't too happy with his car on Saturday and the times reflected it as they weren't as fast as last week, however, Kyle and his team have more momentum going than anyone else in NASCAR. Since finishing 22nd at Martinsville in March, Kyle has reeled off six straight races of finishing no worse than ninth, including two wins. His third-place finish at Texas should be very encouraging for the team as they will have lots of adjusting do do throughout NASCAR's longest race of the season.

Others to watch:
Jimmie Johnson is always one to watch at Charlotte just because his six wins in 17 career starts says so. It really is that simple. The only thing that could keep Johnson from doing well this week is another case of bad luck. I don't know if I truly believe in karma, but I'm getting close as I see Johnson experience new ways to be derailed on a weekly basis. The little nagging things that plague every team for a few races a season have always seem to evade Johnson, and now it seems to be catching up with him. His results have been more normal and human-like than ever.

Johnson is using a new chassis this week and it looks every bit as fast as anyone of the Charlotte entries he's had over the years. In all four of the different practice sessions, including qualifying, Johnson never finished outside of the top-five.

Martin Truex Jr. doesn't show up in the top-10 listings too much, but he is really worthy this week just because he has never looked better in practice. He's coming off an eye-opening runner-up finish in the All-Star last week where he ran away with the qualifying race and came close to running down Kurt Busch for the win. Michael Waltrip racing has had one staple that has been good with his cars and it's been on these type of tracks. David Reutimann may have rain danced himself to a win in this race last year, but they were good on every down force track and it has continued this year with Truex getting the goods this week.

Kasey Kahne is hard to take a chance with weekly just because the stability of the team he's on is shaky, but this week it's different just because it's a 1.5-mile high banked track. On three occasions this year, Kahne has had a top-10 finish, and in all instances they were on a track like Charlotte's.

The only other driver to match Kahne's efforts with top-10's on these tracks is Kevin Harvick. Each of the Childress drivers had an excellent final practice session and should be considered good candidates to win. Simply based on history and Jeff Burton's style of driving, he is the one that looks to stand out in NASCAR's longest race. His patience and three career Charlotte wins should give him a top-five finish this week.

Denny Hamlin was fastest in average speeds during happy hour and had the second fastest single lap as well. He's coming off a good run in the All-Star race and won the last 1.5-mile track on the season at Texas. Not many are hotter than Kyle Busch right now, but Denny is matching him pretty well.

Juan Pablo Montoya had a great final practice and should be in contention late in the race. The Ganassi cars have been some of the strangest of the season and hard to read. Even though they have had some good practice sessions, they have seem to be snakebitten by fate or operator error in the pits. The third-place Atlanta finish is the type of performance we should all be seeing from Montoya weekly instead of the great Texas car that seemed to lose five positions every time they pitted.

Read More Here Including Top 10 Driver Ratings

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