NASCAR gears up for new look at Charlotte

By Pete Pistone  () 

Same place, much different scenario. That describes Wednesday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte was the longest race in the sport’s history, clocking in at 607 miles thanks to an overtime finish. By the time Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag, it was more than 5½ hours after the green flag flew, a long night made even longer by a rain delay of about an hour.  

The return engagement Wednesday is about half the distance of the traditional Memorial Day weekend race at only 312 miles, or 500 kilometers. The shorter affair will dramatically change the way drivers approach the race, with immediacy ratcheted up in a big way.

Saving the car to be in position to run for the win in the 600 was paramount, and many teams spent the first half of the race playing it safe. But Wednesday will play out like a sprint rather than a marathon. The key to finishing well will be to get up front fast and stay there.

That mentality will also impact pit strategy, which helped Keselowski win the 600. The Team Penske driver opted to stay on the track rather than pit for new tires during a late caution flag. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott’s decision backfired when he gave up the lead to come to pit road for fresh tires. Elliott could not make up the lost ground in time to get by Keselowski for the lead, a lesson many crew chiefs learned in creating strategies for Wednesday’s race.

Here’s a look at some of the top contenders in the Alsco Uniforms 500:

ALEX BOWMAN

He had one of the strongest cars in Sunday’s field but faded in the late stages. Until then, Bowman’s Chevrolet looked like the car to beat. He stayed in front for a race-high 164 laps and took the opening two stages. Bowman had an average running position of 3.9 for the first three-quarters of the race until he got shuffled back in the field during the overtime finish. He won this year in Fontana and his first career win came last season at Chicagoland, two intermediate tracks with layouts similar in nature to the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

Truex’s sixth-place Coca-Cola 600 finish was his fifth straight Charlotte top-10 performance, a streak that includes a pair of victories. He led 86 laps Sunday, giving Truex a total of 527 laps at the front of the field in his last five Charlotte starts.

KYLE BUSCH

A pit-road speeding penalty forced Busch to put on a comeback effort in the 600, which he did to finish second after Jimmie Johnson’s runner-up finish was disqualified when his car failed postrace inspection. That gave Busch his fourth straight top-five result in the Coca-Cola 600. He warmed up for Wednesday night’s Cup race with a last-lap pass for the win in Monday’s Charlotte Xfinity Series race.

CHASE ELLIOTT

His disappointing finish Sunday doesn’t erase how well he ran all night at Charlotte. Elliott led 38 laps and has finished second twice in the last four Charlotte races, a span that includes three top-five performances.

 

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