Race Day Preview: Charlotte Motor Speedway

Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service Monday, May 25 230

Charlotte to Host Second Post-Hiatus Midweek NASCAR Cup Race

From a marathon to a sprint. From NASCAR’s longest race to the shortest ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. From four 100-lap stages to three stages of 55, 60 and 93 laps, respectively.

After a grueling 607.5 miles on Sunday (including a five-lap overtime), NASCAR Cup Series drivers will compete in a dash on Wednesday night in the Alsco Uniforms 500 at CMS (8 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). That’s 500 kilometers, by the way; the event measures 312 miles (208 laps), barely more than the first two stages of the Coke 600.

The shortest distance previously run in a Charlotte Cup race—other than two 100-mile qualifying events in 1961—was 341 miles in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600, when David Reutimann picked up the first of his two career wins in a rain-shortened race. 

Racing on Wednesday nights has become the new normal, as NASCAR remains committed to running a full schedule of 36 points-paying events.

“It has been really interesting and fun to have these midweek races,” said Tyler Reddick, who parlayed seventh- and 13th-place finishes in the two Darlington races and a ninth in the 600 into a 43-point lead over Cole Custer in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. 

“They keep us on our toes, even though it’s the same track being raced so close together. Both Darlington and Charlotte are tracks affected by temperature and day-versus-night conditions, so it almost comes off as two different places.”

Brad Keselowski won the Coca-Cola 600 after midnight on Monday, thanks to a rain delay of more than an hour that interrupted the first stage of the race. It wasn’t until almost 2 a.m. that runner-up Jimmie Johnson was disqualified and placed 40th after inspectors found that the rear alignment of his No. 48 Chevrolet exceeded post-race tolerances.

Johnson will be particularly motivated on Wednesday night. So will Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who had victory in his sights at Darlington and at Charlotte, only to see winning chances in both races disappear—at Darlington thanks to Kyle Busch’s bumper and at Charlotte thanks to a late, ill-timed caution. 

KYLE BUSCH GOES FOR EIGHT STRAIGHT IN CHARLOTTE TRUCK RACE

Owner/driver Kyle Busch brings an air of invincibility to Tuesday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch has won the last seven NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races he has entered, including his entire allotment of five races last year. Because of schedule shifts necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, Busch is able to race at Charlotte, where he has won in eight of his 13 starts, the first two with owner Billy Ballew, the last six in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment. 

Busch has finished either first or second in the last nine Charlotte races. His average result at the track is an enviable 2.5.

“With the Truck Series Triple Truck Challenge originally including this race, I was ineligible, so I had to pick another race this year,” Busch said. “Now that everything has gotten flipped upside down with the pandemic, they are rearranging the Triple Truck Challenge, and now I'm able to race at Charlotte.

“Obviously, it’s going to be different not having all the extra support from KBM employees and their families out at the track, but hopefully I can reward everyone at KBM that has done everything that they can the last couple of months to be ready for this race by putting the Cessna Tundra in Victory Lane on Tuesday.”

The Gander Trucks ran two races before the hiatus for the pandemic, with Grant Enfinger winning the season opener at Daytona and Busch taking the second event at Las Vegas.

Enfinger, three-time and reigning series champion Matt Crafton and ThorSport Racing teammates Johnny Sauter and Ben Rhodes will try to score a breakthrough win for Ford at the 1.5-mile track. Ford is winless in the 17 previous Gander Trucks events held at Charlotte.

Rhodes will start from the pole on Tuesday night, with Crafton fourth, Sauter eighth and Enfinger ninth. Absent qualifying for the event, Busch will start 16th based on a draw for position.