Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Coca-Cola 600 Storylines

Kevin Harvick won 2011 Coca-Cola 600 (Getty)
Sunday’s Coca Cola 600 (FOX, live 6 p.m. EDT) is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ longest race and arguably most arduous both on track and pit road. At 600 miles – 400 laps around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway – the race likely will consume more than four hours and require drivers and crews to bring their A games through heat and ever-changing track conditions. Kevin Harvick is the race’s defending winner, driving past an out-of-fuel Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap.

Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Charlotte with a full head of steam, having captured Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th victory at Darlington, the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge and the Sprint All-Star Race on May 19. Johnson hopes to become the third driver in five seasons to win both the 600 and All-Star Race.

This could be the week that Daytona 500 winner re-takes the championship lead from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle. Kenseth, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2000, trails Biffle by two points after the season’s first 11 races. Biffle is winless at Charlotte.

AJ Allmendinger hopes to become the third driver since 2007 to make the Coca-Cola 600 his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.

Danica Patrick does double duty for the third time this season competing in her first Coca-Cola 600 as well as Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race. She ranks 10th in Nationwide Series points.

It’s a busy week with voting for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s fourth class of inductees taking place on Wednesday.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series switches gears from short-track racing at Iowa Speedway to the fast 1.5-miler at Charlotte in Saturday’s History 300, at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series takes a one-week break over the Memorial Day weekend before heading to Dover International Speedway on June 1. Justin Lofton, the season’s fifth different winner, heads the championship by a single point over Timothy Peters.


Doing The Double
Jimmie Johnson swept both the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 in 2003 and hopes to become the third driver in five years to do the double, joining Kasey Kahne (2008) and Kurt Busch (2010). Others who have completed the Charlotte Race Weeks sweep are Jeff Gordon (1997), Dale Earnhardt (1993), Davey Allison (1991) and Darrell Waltrip (1985).

Hendrick Home Track Advantage
Rick Hendrick is the all-time race winner at the track with twice as many wins as the runner-up teams. Hendrick owns 16 victories while Richard Petty and Jack Roush are tied with eight apiece.
With six wins, Jimmie Johnson is tied for most wins at Charlotte with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, has five wins, tied for second with two more NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.
 Adding Kasey Kahne to the team provides another Charlotte winner to the Hendrick arsenal.

Waiting For Junior
Dale Earnhardt Jr. needed what – a quarter gallon of Sunoco Green E15 – to win last year’s Coca-Cola 600, running out of gas while leading on the final lap with the checkered flag literally in the air. Earnhardt made a statement in last weekend’s Sprint All-Star race, racing his way into the feature with a perfect 150.0 Driver Rating in the Sprint Showdown, winning the all-star’s fourth segment and finishing fifth behind winner Johnson.

Tough Sledding For Defending Coca-Cola 600 Winner
Kevin Harvick remains among the top 10 as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season reaches its one-third mark in Charlotte. But it’s been awhile since Harvick has celebrated a good finish, having run outside the top 15 in each of his past three races. The Sprint All-Star Race offers better news for Richard Childress Racing’s lead driver. He finished sixth and figures to have another strong car in defense of last year’s victory.

Points Leader Biffle Yet To Win At Charlotte
Roush Fenway Racing enters the season’s longest race with Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth ranked first and second in points standings. Kenseth, however, is the organization’s only winner among its current driver line-up. RFR, however, has eight Charlotte victories, its most recent in 2002 when Mark Martin won the Coca-Cola 600. Biffle’s Coca-Cola 600 best is second in 2008. Carl Edwards, like Biffle the victim of engine failure in the Sprint All-Star Race, has finished third on three occasions at CMS – twice in the Coca Cola 600.

Coca-Cola 600 Mints First-Time Winners
Some of the sport’s biggest stars have made the Coca-Cola 600 their first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Among active competitors are champions Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995) and Matt Kenseth (2000). Recent first-time winners of the race include Casey Mears (2007) and David Reutimann (2009). Who’s next? How about Penske Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, who proved to have one of the fastest cars during the Sprint All-Star Race weekend? Allmendinger recovered from a back-of-the field start to place second in the Sprint Showdown and blast his way to the front in the main event ultimately finishing 11th. Allmendinger hopes to improve upon his career-topping second-place finish earlier this spring at Martinsville Speedway.

Patrick Doing Double Duty In Charlotte
Danica Patrick will pull double duty in NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races on Saturday and Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Patrick ranks 10th in Nationwide points where she’s racing for the series championship. She’ll make her third NASCAR Sprint Cup start of the season in the Coca-Cola 600 in which only one female driver has previously competed. Janet Guthrie finished 15th in her NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in 1976.
2013 Hall of Fame Class Debuts This Week
Wednesday is voting day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The four 2013 inductees will be introduced at 6 p.m. EDT (SPEED, live) at the Hall in uptown Charlotte. With what many saw as "obvious" selections inducted in the Hall’s first three classes, this year’s voting appears to be wide open and may offer some surprises. The five first-time nominees introduced earlier this year are Anne Bledsoe France, NASCAR’s first secretary treasurer; engine builder and car owner Ray Fox; NASCAR’s first African-American Sprint Cup winner Wendell Scott; RJ Reynolds marketing executive Ralph Seagraves and 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace.

Three Down, One To Go
Toyota will unveil its 2013 Camry on Tuesday at its East Coast R&D Center in Salisbury, N.C. Ford and Dodge previously unwrapped off their next-year models. Chevrolet, which announced it will compete in a brand-new SS model, will officially show the car later this summer following additional testing.

With Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th victory recorded at Darlington Raceway on May 12, the most significant upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup milestone remains Ryan Newman’s quest for a 50th Coors Light Pole. Newman is second on the Charlotte Motor Speedway all-time Coors Light Pole list with nine to David Pearson's 14 – the only CMS qualifier in double digits. Qualifying is important with 61 of 106 winners starting in the top 5 and 81 winners starting in the top 10.

- NASCAR Media Services

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