Drivers face NASCAR’s longest day
Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth actually enjoy tackling the longest race for NASCAR’s top division.
They’ll get another chance today when the Coca-Cola 600 gets the green flag shortly after 6 p.m. (Fox, WGHP, Ch. 8) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Both will be among the favorites to keep Jimmie Johnson from becoming the first to sweep the All-Star race and the 600 since Kahne did it in 2008.
Denny Hamlin starts from the pole after setting a track record lap of 195.624 to edge Kurt Busch. Kenseth, not known as a good qualifier, starts third, with Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Kahne the rest of the top six.
Johnson starts 12th.
Kahne is the race’s defending champion and has won it three times, as has Johnson. Kahne also was fastest in both practice sessions on Saturday.
“For whatever reason, I feel as if I have done better with longer races over the years, 500-mile race, 600-miles races,” Kahne said. “It gives you more time to work on your car and get it as perfect as you can over the last 50-100 miles.
“There’s time you wish the race was over because the race is so long. But for whatever reason, the 600 has been one of my favorite races. I think it’s because there’s a lot of communication going on where you need a good crew chief and engineer.”
Kenseth picked up his first Cup win in the 600 in 2006, just his second Cup start on the 1.5- mile track. He also won the track’s fall race in 2011. He likes the 600 so much that it is his favorite race of the year.
“We got our first win in it so maybe that’s part of it,” Kenseth said.
“This is where I made my first Nationwide start and I have more miles at this track than any other on the circuit. We have only one 600-mile race a year, and track goes through a lot of changes. It usually is hot and slick when the sun is still out when the race starts and then the sun goes down and after 4.5 hours of racing, the track is as fast as it is all race. Everyone picks up a second (a lap) and it’s on. It’s like you wait four hours for a trophy dash. It’s fun.”
Johnson ran away once he got past Kahne in the 10-lap trophy dash that decided the All-Star race last week. Johnson is not driving his All-Star winner because it went to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center until Tuesday for normal post-race inspection and couldn’t be prepared in time for practice and qualifying on Thursday.
“You’d much rather bring that car back,” Johnson said.
Johnson did OK in the replacement car on Saturday, posting the fastest 10-lap average in the first of two practice sessions. No matter who has the speed, the key might be who gets out of the pits fastest and lines up on the front row if there is a late restart because cars in the lead have been tough to pass this season.
“The clean air is more of an advantage in that situation, even if you have been abusing your tires and can hang on,” Johnson said. “A 10-lap shootout changes the game a little bit. Hopefully we’ll be on a 40-lap run on old tires to the finish.”