By Steve Waid – Now that the Sprint All-Star Race is over, won by the personable @JamieMcMurray, one of the most popular drivers in the garage area, it’s back to business.
That “business” is the next points-paying NASCAR Sprint Cup race, which is a doozy. It’s the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the longest race on the circuit. Interesting. We go from a no-points, big money “sprint” of just 90 miles to a long, grueling 600-mile race that has green flag stretches that can last longer than the entire All-Star Race.
When it comes to preparation and strategy, well, talk about making adjustments. Looking back at the current point standings and the status of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the top five are @Jeff GordonWeb, @MattKenseth, @KyleBusch, @DaleJr and Carl Edwards.
Four of the five – Gordon, Busch, Earnhardt Jr. and Edwards – have won races and are virtually assured a spot in the Chase. For Kenseth, second in points, a victory seems inevitable. Gordon seems to have picked up a lot of steam with his first victory of the season at Kansas. And he’s been atop the point standings for weeks.
He’ll receive due notice going into the 600, a race he has won three times. True, he wrecked out of the All-Star race but that shouldn’t stay his momentum.
“Something broke in the front end, either a tire or something in the suspension because I was going down the back straightaway and as I was getting to the corner it just sat down and started going straight,” Gordon said of the accident which relegated him to 17th-place in the 22-car field.
“But it was a great effort by this team and I am still just loving driving these race cars because they are just so good.”
That confidence bodes well for the 600.
Kenseth finished third in the All-Star race, another solid effort by a driver who has had many of them this year. He’s had only three finishes out of the top-10 in 11 races, which explains why he’s so high in the standings.
“At the end of the race, I was kind of sitting back there racing @KevinHarvick for third and hoping we would have a shot,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t get a shot, but the night ended good. It was kind of a struggle all night, but hopefully we picked up some stuff that will help us next week. I think we did.”
Kyle Busch also wrecked out of the special event and Carl Edwards ran well enough to win. He was leading at the start of the final 10-lap segment but gave way to McMurray and faded to seventh.
“I think the racing was good,” Edwards said. “These cars are going so fast that the track has to open up with two or three grooves for you to be able to pass.
“You can’t run a guy down at these speeds in his lines, but I think that this track shows that we can run multiple grooves. That should be true for the 600.”
Now comes the curious case of Earnhardt Jr.
He won the Daytona 500 and in the last four points races, he’s finished among the top-10 three times, including a second at Darlington and a fifth at Kansas. And, even though he finished fourth in the All-Star Race, to hear him talk you might get the impression he’s been driving rust bucket.
“We really were trying to figure out how we can improve to get better for the 600,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I know the guys will work hard all week and try to get us a little more front grip and a little more speed. We made some adjustments and got it better at the end, obviously.
“A lot of guys that were good had trouble so that gave us a couple of spots at the end of the race that we wouldn’t have had. We need to improve a little bit and I think we understand that. I’m confident that when we come back here next week we’ll be good.”
If any of the drivers currently ranked among the top five in points wins the Coca-Cola 600 no one will be surprised. However, because of the nature of race, its length and physical and strategic demands, an unexpected winner may emerge.
No will be surprised over that, either.
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