It’s going to take more than 500 miles of perfection to win this weekend as NASCAR’s best compete in the Memorial Day classic – the Coca-Cola 600. Who will go the distance? Lee Spencer offers her look at NASCAR’s best endurance racers heading into Sunday’s race (5 p.m. ET on FOX).
At 39, Smoke is quickly discovering that a diet of Burger King and Coca Cola might not be the best fuel to go the distance in a 500-mile race, let alone 600 miles that kicks off in the day and ends at night. Stewart has the fifth-best average finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, elevated by a win in the 2003 fall romp. Although he’s 10th on the list of drivers to gain the most points at CMS the past 10 races, his average finish in his younger years was considerably better than it is now.
Only Carl has the brawn to appear shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. Like Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, Edwards’ training regimen is legendary. Unfortunately, his results this season aren’t equal to his efforts. He's amassed the fourth-most points at CMS the past 10 races and also enjoys the fourth-best average (12.9) on the 1.5-miler despite never winning at the track. However, his average finish of 6.8 in the 600 is remarkable.
Busch, the elder, brings momentum to this race from winning his first All-Star event — and his first CMS victory — into Sunday night. He won at Atlanta in March and posted a top 10 at Texas the following month. As solid as the No. 2 Dodge appeared Saturday night, Busch has yet to score a top-10 finish in the 600, though. His best finish (11th) came in the 2004 May CMS race. His three CMS top fives were all scored in the fall event.
Harvick jokes that a top 10 at Charlotte would feel as good as a win. All joking aside, CMS hasn’t been the best track of his career despite finishing second in his first start in the 600. However, this season, he leads the Sprint Cup tour with an average finish of 8.6 and has shown marked improvement at all tracks. On intermediate tracks in '10, his average finish is sixth.
Despite not winning a race in his last 56 starts, Biffle ran strong enough in the Showdown last weekend — sans fresh tires — to transfer to the All-Star race. Having both events to race in offered the No. 16 team the opportunity to test out a variety of strategies for Sunday’s night event. Although Biffle's yet to win at Charlotte, he finished a career-high second in the race two years ago. While Roush Fenway Racing's struggled as a whole, Biffle has top-10 finishes in all three intermediate tracks this season.
Martin's the AARP poster child for being fit at any age. He's a workout freak, but still felt at the end of last season he had to step up his cardio routine. If there's any driver on the Sprint Cup tour who can never be accused of falling out of the seat, he'd be the guy. Although Martin has four Cup wins at Charlotte, only one was earned in the Coca-Cola 600 (2002). He's led 1174 laps at CMS — second-best on the Cup level.
Charlotte Motor Speedway's proved to be one of the best tracks for Burton over the years. Three of his 21 career Cup wins were earned at CMS, including two in the Coca-Cola 600, not to mention his last victory in the fall event in 2008. In 32 starts at Charlotte, he has eight top fives, 15 top 10s and has led 428 laps. In the last 10 races here, he's earned the third-most points in the Sprint Cup Series. His average finish on intermediate tracks this season is 14.3.
Busch posted three DNFs in his first five Charlotte starts, but lately Rowdy's been a beast on the 1.5-miler, with an average finish of better than fifth the last five races. He led 173 laps in the 600 last year after starting second and ended up finishing sixth. In 12 starts here, he’s posted three top fives, six top 10s and has led 319 laps. He's also earned the second-most points of any driver over the last seven races.
Gordon’s first career Cup victory came in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, and he’s been a threat here ever since. He leads all drivers with seven CMS poles, is second to Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson with five wins (three 600s) and rounds out his Charlotte record with 16 top fives and 19 top 10s. He's taken a page from Johnson and Mark Martin’s playbook by stepping up his workout routine, which has paid off with more consistent runs. he's led 709 laps this season, compared to 496 at this point last year.
Kahne's won two of the past four Coca-Cola 600s and has three victories, five top fives and seven top-10 finishes in 12 CMS starts. His average finish of 11.5 here is third-best on tour. Despite a lackluster season overshadowed by the drama of vacating the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports after this season, Kahne’s lone top fives this year were earned on intermediate tracks and has finished in the top 10 at all three 1.5-mile ovals. If he's still receiving competitive equipment, expect him to be a frontrunner.
Despite Charlotte Motor Speedway reverting to its previous name, Johnson still refers to the 1.5-miler just east of Hendrick Motorsports' campus as his house -- and with good reason. In 17 CMS starts, Johnson has amassed six wins (including four straight), nine top fives, 13 top 10's and three poles. Three of his Charlotte victories came in the 600 -- NASCAR's truest test of endurance for man and machine. While HMS is known for its top of the line equipment, there are few drivers that share Johnson's dedication on and off the track.