CONCORD, N.C. – The NASCAR Cup Series gears up for the annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This Memorial Day weekend traditional will push race teams to their limits with its 400-lap, 600-mile challenge.
RELATED: Coca-Cola 600 postponed to Monday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX
While the Coca-Cola 600 is one of the Cup Series’ crown-jewel events, the track is also the closest to just about every team in the garage. The first race at the facility was held during the 1960 season. Since then, the 600-mile event has become a tradition at the sport's top level of competition. Chase Elliott, who is the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Patriotic Chevy, approaches the race with a unique perspective.
"It is a tale of two races really," Elliott said. "Half of the race is in the afternoon when the sun’s out and it's really hot. Then, you have a night race. Two different days there rolled into one."
Hendrick Motorsports has gone to victory lane a record 12 times in the Coca-Cola 600. This mark is double the total of the second-place organization. Jimmie Johnson leads the pack with four wins, while team vice chairman Jeff Gordon earned three in his career. Darrell Waltrip earned the first two Coca-Cola 600 wins in team history. Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson have each gone to victory lane once for Rick Hendrick’s team in this race.
There may not be another driver in the sport on a hot streak like that of Kyle Larson. He battled for the lead late in the last points-paying event at Darlington Raceway, but the ending did not favor the No. 5 HendrickCars.com entry. However, Larson’s rebound in the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway was a dominating performance (and completed a weekend sweep with a win in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race). With the momentum of this win (and the check for $1 million) behind the team, they head to Charlotte looking for another crown-jewel victory on the 1.5-mile venue. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports for the 2021 season, Larson has series-best marks on traditional 1.5-mile tracks in wins (five), runner-up finishes (five), top-fives (11), top-10s (15), stage wins (13), laps led (1,790) and average finish (7.06).
Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 team, spoke with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week and discussed the team's outlook through the first half of the regular season and into the Coca-Cola 600.
"Momentum is a real thing," Daniels said. We’d like to think we have some momentum going our way. Obviously, the finishes haven’t always been there the last handful of weeks. Certainly, we’ve been upfront. We’ve been contending.
"... There’s a lot to be said for maintaining that consistency and that’s really the energy and the vision for our team moving forward. Charlotte (Motor Speedway) is a place that we love dearly. Right here, close to home and there’s no doubt of how tough the 600-mile race is going to be this week. We want to make sure we put our best foot forward."
Although Elliott has yet to win the Coca-Cola 600, he has tasted victory on Charlotte’s oval layout. In the 2020 season, the series raced twice at the track within a matter of days (due to scheduling changes in the return to racing after the COVID-19 shutdown). During the first race at the track (which was the 600-mile event), Elliott was in prime position to take the checkered flag when a caution came out with two laps remaining. While he settled for a runner-up result, the team returned four nights later and took home the checkered flag. Elliott has four top-four finishes in his last five races on the oval and has led 217 laps over that stretch of time.
Fresh off the No. 24’s 100th win at Darlington, William Byron enters Charlotte looking to maintain the momentum in the No. 24 Liberty University Patriotic Chevrolet. His three wins make him the fourth driver (and the 14th instance) in Hendrick Motorsports history to visit victory lane on three separate occasions through the first 13 races of a season. The 25-year-old driver tops the board in the Cup Series in wins (three), top-five finishes (six), laps led (596), laps run in the top five (1,787) and current top-10 streak (four). As a native Charlotte, North Carolina, Byron is eager to secure his first victory at his home track. He’s been close in the past, highlighted by a fourth-place run in 2021.
Alex Bowman returns to the seat of the No. 48 Ally Chevy this Sunday for the first time since recovering from a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident in late April. Despite missing three points-paying races and the All-Star Race, the 30-year-old driver is just five points below the provisional cutline, thanks to his strong start to 2023. Bowman has earned three top-five results, six top-10s and a 10.30 average finish in 10 starts. He has three top-10 finishes in his last four Coca-Cola 600s.
RELATED: Bowman to return for Charlotte race
Here's what you need to know to catch this weekend's action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Practice and qualifying were rained out. See how the quartet of Hendrick Motorsports drivers will line up here.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 600-mile Cup Series main event is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on Monday, May 29, with coverage on FOX.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
The Cup Series race will be broadcast on PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
WHAT CHANNEL IS FS1?
It varies by location, but this link allows viewers to find the channels by entering their zip code and selecting their television provider.
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO CHARLOTTE
Data provided by Racing Insights
3.75: Byron's average finish over the past four races in 2023. He has a streak of three straight top-five finishes and four straight top-10s.
5: Four drivers have won five races with the Next Gen race car. Hendrick Motorsports employs three of those drivers (Elliott, Larson and Byron).
63: Points behind the current provisional playoff cutline for Elliott. When he returned from injury at Martinsville Speedway, the gap was 134 markers.
164: Laps led by Bowman during the 2020 Coca-Cola 600. That mark was the most by any driver over the course of the race.
1,790: Larson's laps led on 1.5-mile tracks since the start of the 2021 season. That total is three times more than the any other driver.