Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Coca-Cola 600 Storylines

NASCAR longest race of the season always provides excitement
Grueling. Intense. Strategic.

Competitors have tossed those words – and plenty others – around to describe NASCAR’s Memorial Day Weekend tradition, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

At 400 laps (that’s 600 miles on the 1.5-mile oval), NASCAR’s longest race provides a unique test for the world’s best drivers. The strategy is unlike any other – the length is one thing, but this one starts with the sun shining, and ends under the lights.

The length, location and buzz make this race one of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewels,” and a coveted prize for each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series starts the weekend, coming off a thrilling career-first victory by series-only regular Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Iowa Speedway. The series returns to Charlotte, for the Top Gear 300 on Saturday afternoon.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has an open weekend before heading to Kansas Speedway to celebrate its 400th race.

Storylines follow…


On The Double: Edwards Aims For Charlotte Sweep
Edwards tries to join seven others who have swept
Roush Fenway Racing already swept last weekend’s all-star festivities, with David Ragan winning the Sprint Showdown and Carl Edwards taking home his first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory.

Now, Edwards looks for a sweep of his own. If he wins again this weekend, in the Coca-Cola 600, he’ll become the eighth driver to accomplish the All-Star/Coke 600 sweep. An accomplished mission wouldn’t be all that surprising. Drivers have said that they, in part, view the all-star race as a testing ground for points-paying 600.

The Charlotte Speedweeks sweep list: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (1991); Dale Earnhardt (1993); Jeff Gordon (1997); Jimmie Johnson (2003); Kasey Kahne (2008); Kurt Busch (2010).

Decisions, Decisions: Strategy At Forefront
To pit, take two or four. Or not. Game plans have gone up in tire smoke this season, ratcheting up the strategy spotlight. With only seconds to spare between a win and 10th-place, crew chiefs and teams are gambling more than in recent memory, setting up finishes like Regan Smith’s first career win, at Darlington Raceway several weeks ago, and Matt Kenseth’s 20th series win, this time at Dover, the following week.

A new tire, points system and urgency to be in the standings’ top 10 (or within striking distance), by the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Sept. 10 cutoff event at Richmond International Raceway, means wins are more crucial than ever. The two non-Chase drivers ranked in the top 20 after Richmond who have the most victories will fill the final two Chase spots – 11th and 12th. And Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – the series’ longest and most grueling race – again brings strategy, and the willingness to buck it, to the forefront. The race begins in daylight, ends under darkness and incorporates a slew of decisions and strategies, likely never more important than in 2011.

100-Win Watch: Busch Empty In NASCAR Sprint Cup Series At Charlotte
Kyle Busch looking for first Cup win at Charlotte
Some prolific winners elsewhere have come up empty at Charlotte.

Most notable on that list: Kyle Busch, who pushed his NASCAR national series wins total to 97 after winning last weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte.

Busch has won 10 points races overall at Charlotte, six in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and four in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Other “ones to watch” who have yet to nab a series points win at Charlotte: Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and points leader Carl Edwards.

Ragan Rides Momentum Into 600
The start of the 2011 season seemed like more of the same for David Ragan – just continued frustrations carried over from 2009 and 2010 after a career-year in 2008. His first five finishes were all outside the top 10, and three were outside the top 20.

But things are coming together for the 25-year-old. He has three top 10s since the rough start, which already match last year’s total. And his top five at Richmond was his first since 2008.

But, of course, all of that pales in comparison to Ragan’s Sprint Showdown victory last Saturday, his first win of any kind in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

A points-race victory would immediately put Ragan into Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup contention. He’s only 11 points outside the top 20, a key wrinkle for 2011.

After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers are locked into the Chase. Spots 11 and 12 go to the two drivers with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.

A First Time For Everything, Especially At Charlotte
Don’t be surprised if there’s a surprise.

Charlotte has been the home of a number of first-time winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That list includes some high-profile names, four of whom went on to win series championships.

Those drivers who have nabbed their first series win at Charlotte: David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kensesth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann. (Baker, Glotzbach and McMurray won their first in the October Charlotte event.)

Round 2: NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Set
David Pearson inducted into Hall of Fame Monday
The second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be officially inducted Monday, May 23rd.

The members of the second class: Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore, David Pearson and Lee Petty.

An exciting side-note: Each inductee segment will feature a video introduction by a rather high-profile name. Alabama head football coach Nick Saban will introduce Bobby Allison; Ken Squier will introduce Ned Jarrett; Tom Brokaw will introduce Bud Moore; Richard Petty will introduce David Pearson; and President George H.W. Bush will introduce Lee Petty.

The historic event takes place in the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom, which is connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and be broadcast by SPEED at 8 p.m.

NASCAR and Memorial Day: A Time To Remember
Honoring those who served this weekend
Much of the focus this weekend, like 37 others on the NASCAR calendar, will be on the competition on the track, and the enjoyment by fans in the stands.

But this particular stretch means something more – to the sport as whole, and this country. Memorial Day Weekend is one to pay tribute to the service men and women of the United States military, and the NASCAR community has a number of initiatives in place to celebrate and remember, namely…

· On Thursday, May 26, 2011, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian Z. France and President of ESPN and ABC Sports George Bodenheimer will receive the 2011 Intrepid Salute Award, presented to “corporate and community leaders for their support of our nation’s military and veterans communities, providing educational opportunities to our nation’s young people, and serving as an example of leadership and responsibility” at the Interpid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. The NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy and at least one show car are scheduled to be there.

· As part of the White House’s “Joining Forces” campaign, NASCAR Media Group has produced and Walmart will broadcast in 500+ retail stores a public service announcement featuring NASCAR drivers Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Parker Kligerman that calls on fans and customers to recognize the needs and challenges military families face. Viewers will be directed to for information on how to help military families in their local communities. The PSA’s will debut on Memorial Day and run throughout the 2011 NASCAR season.

· NASCAR and the Armed Forces Foundation have come together to launch the Troops to the Track program, which recognizes and hosts members of the U.S. Armed Forces at NASCAR races throughout the year. Troops to the Track will provide over 100 wounded service members, or service members in jobs that are particularly emotional and physically demanding, an opportunity to get away from the challenges they face each day with an exclusive, VIP-style NASCAR race day experience. This weekend’s guest will be from the U.S. Army Special Operations Comment, Ft. Bragg.

- NASCAR Media Services

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