NASCAR Cup Series News & Notes – Charlotte Motor Speedway

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Coca-Cola 600
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, May 24
The Time: 6 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, 5:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 600 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 100),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 200), Stage 3 (Ends on Lap 300), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)
2019 Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Expanded NASCAR partnership with Safety Kleen

As the NASCAR industry moves from Darlington Raceway to Charlotte Motor Speedway to continue racing this weekend, ensuring that the track is a clean and safe location to race is of utmost concern during these times.

Beginning last week at Darlington, and continuing this weekend in Charlotte and beyond, NASCAR’s expanded partnership with Clean Harbors, the parent company of Safety Kleen, includes disinfection and decontamination services to prepare the tracks and clean the inbound haulers and equipment used during the race weekend.

“As NASCAR returns to racing, it’s essential that our drivers, teams and staff are safe at the track,” said John Bobo, NASCAR’s vice president of racing operations. “We appreciate the expanded partnership with Clean Harbors during these unprecedented times, as they will play a critical role in the ongoing disinfection of our facilities leading into and during race weekends.”

 

NASCAR Cup Series

Moving on to the Queen City
Now with two races completed in NASCAR’s return to racing following the stoppage due to the COVID-19 outbreak, NASCAR moves on to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a pair of NASCAR Cup Series races over four days.

The homestand starts off with the traditional Memorial Day weekend Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 24, at 6 p.m. ET (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). That race is followed up three days later by the Alsco Uniforms 500 in a mid-week prime-time race on Wednesday, May 27, at 8 p.m. ET (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

 

While the Coca-Cola 600 is taking place during it’s originally scheduled slot in the schedule, the Alsco Uniforms 500 is replacing what would have been the road course race at Sonoma in June.

This marks the third of the three Cup Series race realignments announced by NASCAR earlier this month. The two Darlington races earlier this week took the place of Chicagoland’s June date and the spring Richmond race that was originally slated for April.

In a statement, NASCAR said, “Due to the current pandemic, NASCAR has faced several difficult decisions, including realigning race dates from several race tracks. These decisions were made following thorough collaboration with local and state government officials from across the country, including the areas of the affected race tracks. We thank all our fans for their support, and we look forward to our return to racing.”

Qualifying returns for the Coca-Cola 600

For the first time since NASCAR returned to racing at Darlington, Busch Pole Award qualifying will set the field for the NASCAR Cup Series.

Qualifying will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m., mere hours before the start of the 600-mile race.

William Byron started on the Busch Pole last year for the Coca-Cola 600.

“600 Miles of Remembrance” returns to honor fallen service members
In what has become an annual tradition during the Coca-Cola 600, the names of U.S. Armed Forces members who sacrificed their lives for our country will be proudly displayed on the windshields of each of the 40 NASCAR Cup Series cars participating in the race.

Several of the names were chosen due to personal connections the team or sponsor had to the fallen service members.

Three of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars will feature the names of soldiers killed on May 23, 2011, when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in the country’s eastern Kunar province. The deaths of Staff Sergeant Kristofferson Lorenzo (will be on Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford), Private First Class William Blevins (on the No. 10 of Aric Almirola) and Private First Class Andrew Krippner (on the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer) had an impact on team fabricator Matthew Ridgway, a U.S. Army veteran. While Ridgway did not know the three men personally, he would later serve in the same battalion as the fallen soldiers honored on the team’s cars.

Kurt Busch and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet will carry the name of U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Philip Grieser on the windshield during Sunday’s race. Grieser was the chief of Seabee team 1013 and was killed in a base attack in 1969 while serving in the Vietnam War. His son, Doug Newell, is an electrician for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Brennan Poole’s No. 15 Spartan Mosquito Chevy Camaro will proudly honor SFC. Nathan Ross

Chapman from 1st Special Forces Group. Chapman, from San Antonio, Texas, was killed on January 4, 2002, in Khost, Afghanistan. Three members of the Spartan Mosquito family also served in the 1st Special Forces Group.

With Sunday’s race to run without fans or special guests in attendance, each of the families honored as part of 600 Miles of Remembrance on Sunday will receive an acrylic replica of the racecar header with the fallen service member’s name and rank from NASCAR and Coca-Cola. Additionally, Coca-Cola is hosting a private pre-race virtual concert by country artist Justin Moore for Gold Star Families.

Charlotte Motor Speedway will continue its long-standing tradition of military tributes in recognition of Memorial Day Weekend. In addition to the pre-race military flyover, the race broadcast on FOX will capture a moment of silence at the conclusion of Stage 2, when all cars will stop on pit road to honor to the fallen.

Best in the return
While clearly the fans at home were the big winners in NASCAR’s return to racing this week, on the track it was Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin who took home the hardware from the first two races following the resumption of competition.

And not only did they each win (Harvick – Sunday’s event, Hamlin – on Wednesday night), but they put together exceptional average finishes in the two races.

Harvick followed up the win with a third-place finish in Wednesday’s event, posting an average finish of 2.0 in the return. Hamlin placed fifth in the opener at Darlington and therefore posted an average finish of 3.0 in the two races.

Two other drivers managed to put together a pair of top-10 finishes in both Darlington starts – Martin Truex Jr. (sixth in the first, 10th in the second race) and Erik Jones (eighth in the first, fifth in the second race).

Matt DiBenedetto had a solid pair of races for Wood Brothers Racing, turning in a 14th-place effort in Sunday’s race and then jumping into the top 10 with a ninth-place finish under the lights on Wednesday. And Aric Almirola also had a productive week at Darlington, finishing 12th in the opener and then seventh on Wednesday.

Another driver who showed consistency in the return was Brad Keselowski, taking his Team Penske Ford to a 13th-place finish on Sunday and then ending the night in fourth on Wednesday.

2020 winners at Charlotte Motor Speedway

With his win on Wednesday night, Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin became the second driver in 2020 with two visits to Victory Lane. Joey Logano (Las Vegas, Phoenix) is the other. Alex Bowman (Auto Club) and Kevin Harvick (Darlington-1) are the only other drivers with wins this season

If Hamlin is to complete a hat trick on the season next week at Charlotte, he would have to win his first race on the 1.5-mile track to do so. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has an average finish of 12.3 at Charlotte, including a pair of runner-up finishes at the track (both races in 2012). However, his work as of late in the Queen City has been impressive as he has finished in the top five in five of the last seven races at Charlotte.

Logano does have a victory in Charlotte, albeit in the slightly shorter 500-mile fall version that used to run on the oval prior to 2018. He took the win in 2015, and struggled a bit since then. After placing ninth in this May race in 2016, Logano averaged a finish of 26.25 in the next four races (36th, 21st, 26th, 22nd) until his runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600 last spring.

If Bowman continues on the upward trajectory that he has followed in the past year, it’s entirely possible that he could become the third two-time winner of the season, despite Charlotte stats that trend otherwise.

In his first five Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bowman posted an average finish of 32.0. Since taking over the No. 88 full-time in 2018 he has finished ninth and seventh in the Coca-Cola 600. (Of note, his 2016 fall start at Charlotte was also in the No. 88 while filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. – and his effort ended early with a crash on lap 61.)

This could correspond to a trip to Victory Lane at Charlotte for the young driver. At Chicagoland, where he earned his first NASCAR Cup Series win last year, Bowman placed 35th and 37th in his first two races there in 2014 and 2015. He followed that up with a pair of 10th-place results in 2016 and 2018 before the win last year.

And at Auto Club Speedway in California, where he captured his second career win earlier this year, Bowman had an average finish of 22.25 in the four starts before his victory. His previous best was 13th in the 2018 race in Fontana.

Harvick is the 2020 winner with the best record at Charlotte in terms of wins – with three (Coca-Cola 600 in 2011 and 2013, as well as the fall 500-mile event in 2014. He also has eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 36 starts at the track on the oval.

Truex rebounding after the break
It’s fair to say that the opening four races of the 2020 season didn’t bring the success that 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. is used to seeing.

With a pair of 32nd-place finishes (Daytona, Phoenix), Truex produced an average finish of 24.5 in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota over that stretch before the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it appears that over the break, Truex and his new crew chief this season, James Smalls, may have found their stride as they rebounded to put together a pair of top-10 results at Darlington (sixth on Sunday, 10th on Wednesday). The results dropped his average finish over the first six races to 16.2 and mark his only two top-10s of the season.

And with two shots at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track next week, it could be the place at which Truex breaks into the top five for the first time this season – or maybe even visits Victory Lane. Truex is a two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600, including a dominant performance in 2016 in which he led 392 of the 400 laps. His other win in the endurance race came just a year ago. He also has a win in the fall 500-mile race in 2017, back when that was still contended on the oval.

Austin Dillon, Brennan Poole team up with partners to provide hometown support
Austin Dillon and Brennan Poole each announced separate projects to take place over Memorial Day weekend with their corporate partners to provide support to for residents in their hometowns.

Through his collaboration with the GM BuyPower Card®, Dillon is coming to the aid of his local community in advance of the Coca-Cola 600 through a contribution to Pit Stops for Hope.

Pit Stops for Hope, a charitable collaboration within the racing community focused on addressing educational and nutritional needs among the youth, will use the funds from the contribution within the Piedmont-Triad and Charlotte areas of North Carolina to provide meals and educational materials.

“Pit Stops for Hope is an organization close to my heart since it started over 10 years ago, but as I prepare for fatherhood, the mission to support children in poverty has become even more meaningful to me,” said Dillon. “So many families across the country are in need right now, and I hope this contribution will offer some much-needed assistance to the city we call home.”

In conjunction with his sponsor for the Coca-Cola 600, Spartan Mosquito, Poole will be making an impact off the track for residents and veterans in need in his hometown of Houston, Texas.

Poole has donated a portion of his salary to provide 500,000 meals to his hometown of Houston in support of Houston Food Bank during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In that same spirit of giving and celebrating our nation’s heroes, Poole’s sponsor Spartan Mosquito has committed $125,000 in mosquito products for the city of Houston’s veterans this Memorial Day Weekend.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston Food Bank is distributing unprecedented amounts of food to those in need, about 1 million pounds a day. In fact, the food bank is experiencing a 130%-150% increase in demand over the 1.1 million food insecure people in their service area and is serving 128,333 households per week, a 93% increase from this time last year.

“During this incredibly hard time, it is so important to me to make an impact and provide some relief to the city that built me,” Poole said. “Food fuels our communities. When we support food banks, we directly get food into the hands of those who need it and broaden the strength of our recovery.”

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