Drivers ready for a "really, really long night" in Charlotte

Nigel Kinrade/NKP/Motorsport Images

Drivers ready for a "really, really long night" in Charlotte

NASCAR

Drivers ready for a "really, really long night" in Charlotte

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Joey Logano is prepared for Sunday night to be one of the longest Coca-Cola 600 races NASCAR has ever seen.

Yes, the 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is already NASCAR’s longest race, but Logano believes there has been an emerging trend that might add to that.

“I think it has the possibility of being maybe the longest Coke 600 we’ve ever had, just considering how many more cautions we’ve had recently compared to the last few years,” he said. “I could see that changing some and being longer than normal, but to me, you’ve got to prep for 700 miles [anyway], and that way, you’re still fresh at 600.”

Last season, there were four cautions in the Coca-Cola 600 that Kyle Larson dominated. Larson led 327 of 400 laps and won by 10 seconds. The race lasted three hours, 58 minutes and 45 seconds.

Five of the 13 races this season have had 10 or more cautions. Three of those races (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Fontana) were on intermediates tracks, like Charlotte.

“We might set a record for how long the race has been,” said Christopher Bell.

The longest Coca-Cola 600 in history was the inaugural race in 1960 at five hours, 34 minutes and six seconds. A year later, in 1961, it was five hours, 22 minutes and 29 seconds. The third longest race was in 2005 at five hours, 13 minutes, 52 seconds. Of the last five Coca-Cola 600 races, the longest was in 2019 at four hours, 50 minutes and nine seconds.

The 2022 caution breakdown by race:

Bristol dirt – 14
Dover – 13
Fontana – 12
Las Vegas – 12
Atlanta – 11
Darlington – 9
COTA – 9
Kansas – 8
Phoenix – 8
Daytona – 7
Talladega – 6
Richmond – 5
Martinsville – 4

“This Next Gen car and the temperature this year will be difficult – more difficult than most years,” Kurt Busch said. “Just because of all the newness with the car.

“We only get 20 minutes of practice. At least the practice is during the race window. A lot of times, we’d practice, and it would be two in the afternoon, or it’d be 9 o’clock at night. And so I’m glad practice is closer to race conditions.

“And it’s just the Next Gen car has its challenges. We don’t know what to expect with the traction spray and the way that it’s been racing. It looks like it just keeps getting higher and higher.”

Given that, Busch believes the Next Gen car will make Sunday night more physically taxing than before. Drivers came into the year expressing how the car was harder to drive, more on edge than Gen6, and leaves little room for error.

“Absolutely,” Busch said. “And Denny [Hamlin] was talking about it early in the season on some of the good races he was having on how you drive it extra hard and it sticks better because it forces the tires into the track and your diffuser is lower.

“And me and Bubba [Wallace] were like, ‘I don’t think we’re at that sequence of handling yet.’ We’ve improved our car in the last month, and I felt that at Darlington – literally was driving into Turn 3 way deeper than I ever have, and it was sticking.

“Now you’re trying to learn the feel of a tire drop off and overdriving and still having good lap times. So that’s going to happen as well, as the left rear tire has been fragile on this car.

“A lot of guys have had trouble, and so will it go 50 laps when we have stages of 100? But if you do the calculations, 50 laps is the way you break it up for speed and not being on pit road too often. And so will the tires go 50 laps while you’re pushing hard in a new sequence with the car.”

Logano believes it’ll be more of a mental battle.

“This car doesn’t accept mistakes very well where the old car, you can overcook the entry [to a corner] a little bit, you slide up and it’s all right,” he said. “This thing, you get in there a little too hot, and you swap ends pretty quick. You spin out, so I think you’ve got to keep that in mind. Physically, probably no more than last year, but mentally I think it could be more challenging.”

Logano has never won the Coca-Cola 600, but Busch has (2010). As has Kevin Harvick, (2011 and ’13) who said he expects Sunday night to be about survival.

“It’s going to be a long night,” Harvick said. “It’s going to be longer than normal, in my opinion. I think it’s going to be a war. I think it’s going to be a battle of attrition, and it could have the potential to be a really, really long night.”

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