Saturday, May 28, 2016

High-Speed Chess: Previewing the Coca-Cola 600

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
by Kristen Schneider

Since 1960, Charlotte Motor Speedway has held a special place on every driver’s bucket list. It presents challenges that vary from 600 grueling miles to transitioning from day to night. Drivers struggle to sustain their energy while crews attempt to tweak the set-up. Everyone is in the pursuit of speed, leverage, and victory.

Those obstacles simply make the win even sweeter.

There is a lot at stake on Sunday night, more than a trophy or making history. With the schedule mainly comprised of 1.5-mile tracks, success at CMS would mean a team found a useful set-up for future races – even ones in the Chase. Not to mention the bragging rights that come along with the Coca-Cola 600 victory. Competitors know who’s strong, and they’ll hear about for the rest of the season.

Before the historic race gets underway, here are three headlines you should know before watching the next 600 miles.

Truex, Furniture Row start on the pole

After coming close to victory three times this season, Martin Truex Jr. is not going away. Furniture Row Racing’s newest alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing makes them a mainstay within the top 10. Truex captured the pole with a qualifying time of 28.077 seconds (192.328 mph). It’s his second pole of the season and the eighth of his Sprint Cup career. Wins tend to slip through Truex’s fingers, but I'm picking him to grab the trophy for this 600. With JGR power under the hood, he is one to watch this weekend.

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
Ford flourishes in qualifying

Blue ovals make up half of Sunday’s top 10, a rarity in recent years due to Chevrolet and Toyota domination. While Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are up there as usual, Roush Fenway Racing’s qualifying effort is a sight for sore eyes. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lines up third, while teammates Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne start sixth and 10th, a testament to their sudden speed. Stenhouse has come into his own early this season, and Biffle and Bayne followed suit. The latter two claimed victories in the Sprint Showdown, another morale boost for the organization. Richard Petty Motorsports was also fast in qualifying, but Aric Almirola and Brian Scott were shuffled around in the late stages of each round. They start 20th and 30th, respectively. Chevy and Toyota have shared the dominance lately, but Ford will have a slight advantage with their presence near the front of the field.

Low downforce invades CMS

Aside from being one of the biggest races on the schedule, much of the hype can be attributed to the newest aero package. Parts of the Sprint All-Star Race set-up are applied this weekend; the mounted truck trailing arm and reduced number of cooling fans will make an appearance, while the rear toe adjustments will not. What does this mean? Well, the racing should be one step below the All-Star craziness because there's still a serious cut in downforce and side force. There is a bit of hesitancy in the fact that the race goes from day to night. That slight doubt is overruled by anticipation. The constant adjustments needed to excel in this race will become the main focus, and it’s thrilling to keep up with the strategy. High-speed chess? Yes, please. This event is the perfect mixture of driver, machine, and those behind the scenes. It has something for everyone. As the 40-car field attempts to manage low downforce at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there will be plenty to watch and enjoy. 

The Coca-Cola 600 is set to take place Sunday, May 29, at 6 p.m. TV coverage starts at 5:30 p.m. on FOX. The race is also available on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and PRN. For updates and photos from the track, follow Skirts and Scuffs and Kristen Schneider on Twitter, and the Skirts and Scuffs Facebook page.