Podium Preview: Coca-Cola 600 and ALSCO 500k at Charlotte

The NASCAR Cup Series circuit turns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 and ALSCO 500k. While Charlotte is already challenging, there are so many unknowns with the limited on-track time prior to these races.

If there’s one thing we all know, the drivers and teams are up to the challenges that await them tonight and Wednesday night. While Charlotte Motor Speedway looks like a tame asphalt arena, she’s certainly one of the most temperamental ones. Crew chiefs and drivers will battle changing track conditions, especially in the Coca-Cola 600.

On this day and each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley Hobbs, Cody ShoppeIsabelle BeecyKobe Lambeth, Matteo MarcheschiMatt SisolerSean Folsom, Terra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

This weekend, we consider NASCAR’s new normal and the incident between Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. Also, eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series racer Michael Guariglia takes readers around a lap of the Cup Series of the week, Charlotte Motor Speedway!

Podium Preview: Coca-Cola 600 and ALSCO 500k at Charlotte
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Question 1

Erik Jones, driver of the #20 DEWALT Atomic Thank You Toyota, waits on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NASCAR’s return went smoothly with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin winning the races at Darlington. How would you evaluate this “new” normal for NASCAR in terms of its execution with races and starting lineup format?

Folsom : I think it all went great. I think the starting lineup format worked out great. It gives a change to the old “normal” and gives the lineup a change. 

Sisoler :  It was good for NASCAR to have a smooth relaunch, and from a TV viewer’s perspective, it was great. As long as there are no issues going forward, I say let’s keep dropping the green flag and get these cars roaring!

Shoppe :  I am happy with how the return as gone! Sure, we all would like to see some of the things return that we can’t have right now, but this is what has to happen. We should all be thankful our sport is back and if all goes well, it’s back to stay! 

Marcheschi : NASCAR’s return went really smoothly, and it’s a testament to all the parties involved. It was nice to see the FOX team step it up with the drone cam, as well as the video-based starting lineup in Wednesday night’s race. The guys in the booth also made a concerted effort to help any newcomers watching understand the basics, which was great to see.

I’d love to see inversions become more commonplace as well. It was great to see a guy like Ty Dillon leading laps. The policies NASCAR has in place are great, and have generally been followed well. And while we’d all love to return to normal, NASCAR is doing a great job bringing the sport to fans under these circumstances.

Hobbs :  I think it went as smoothly as one could hope and expect. While it can be confusing to understand all the different things for “qualifying”; blind draw for start, owner’s points for pit stalls, inverting the field for race 2, pit stalls chosen based on first race results. Yeah, it’s a lot to take in but it was handled well. In the end, as long as the teams get it and are fine with it, let’s go racing!

Luttrell :   In all honesty, I don’t think the return could have gone any better. Once the cars hit the track, the awkwardness of the day was soon forgotten. It felt no different to me than a normal race. I hardly noticed the lack of fans in the stands, and the excitement of the race took center stage.

FOX did a stellar job of not only calling the race, but also integrating explanations of what was going on in the cars, on the track, and on pit road for new viewers to understand. As far as the starting lineup procedure, I believe it works well. It gives drivers who typically start in the back, an equal opportunity to start up front due to the random draw.

The inverted positions at the following race is a great way to keep things fair. It offers those who drew numbers in the back that same chance to be up front. In my opinion, NASCAR is doing a great job of putting on these races.

Question 2

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Red White Blue Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch’s tangle at Darlington, what can we expect from these two racers starting at Charlotte?

Lambeth :  While I do not expect any sort of retaliation at a 1.5-mile track, it would not surprise me if Chase Elliott races Kyle Busch a little harder than usual if the two drivers find themselves battling for position on track. However, I will keep a close eye on both drivers when the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol and Martinsville soon. Short tracks are the perfect place for any potential paybacks. 

Beecy :   I wouldn’t be shocked if Chase at least races him hard. I’m sure a dump-and-run isn’t out of the picture either, but I’m not sure if Chase would go that route. But I’m sure once Chase and Kyle are together on track, they’re off to the races (both literally and figuratively).

Jones :  I think anything is on the table at this point. They are both professionals, but I think Chase will race Kyle with less concern about if, and where, Kyle finishes the race. 

Tiongson :  Based on Chase Elliott’s teleconference on Friday, it would seem like it’s a forgiven but not forgotten moment. Elliott isn’t one to exact retribution in an aggressive style. Instead, he just might make life a living hell for Kyle Busch when it comes to making a pass for position in these next several races. However, as I recall, Elliott didn’t exactly tell the world about his payback plans with Denny Hamlin in late 2017. And we saw it unfold at Phoenix. Now that the move has been made by Busch, intentional or not, he has to be prepared for that payback. But, there’s no telling when that’ll happen.

Those were the two laps by the panelists!
Now, let’s go for “A Lap Around Charlotte” with Michael Guariglia, a full-time eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competitor!
Michael Guariglia shares the keys to a good lap in the Coca-Cola 600.

Michael Guariglia shares the keys to a good lap in the Coca-Cola 600.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is your typical 1.5 mile oval on the NASCAR calendar. It has a double dog-legged frontstretch, high banked corners, and a lot of room to move around.

Despite that, the track has lots of character with bumps on the bottom and top of the track. This makes it difficult to setup the car for a race around “America’s Home for Racing.” Being able to get through the bumps is paramount for success for Sunday’s Coca Cola 600, the longest race of the year. 

For the general setup, most cars will set up with higher than normal ride heights, due to the little practice and uncertainty of what the car will react like. Crew chiefs will utilize spring rubbers and shims to adjust the front ride heights throughout the race for the front shocks to adjust front ride heights. Look for a lot of teams to steer away from a “trimmed out,” low downforce style setup due to the length of time in the corners. Now that the setup is adjusted and fit for us to turn some laps, let’s set some flyers. 

Coming down the frontstretch, the car should be positioned nicely in the middle of the track to maximize momentum, putting as little tension as possible on the steering wheel. To get everything out of the car on the doglegs, it is crucial to turn in a little earlier than normal, to make sure the car stays around the center of the track before heading to turn one. 

On approach to turn one, get the car close to the wall to allow for a clean entry. Turn one and two are interesting in that there are two distinct grooves. If we want to run the bottom, like on restarts to take the shortest path possible, there will be a drop off into the corner as the transition from straightaway to corner happens.

The key for the bottom is get the left-side tires hooked on the white and blue line to allow the car to turn better and avoid the bumps. If you hit the bumps, the car will drift out into the second lane, falling out like a skater does a half pipe.

If we prefer the outside line, we want to look for the first seam that separates the bottom and middle groove. Similar to the bottom, we want to hook the seam to give us grip and drive off the corner. Don’t be surprised if there are a few cars up at the wall trying to fight handling, but don’t expect that lane to come in except for the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors races. 

Now that we got through turns one and two, the backstretch is the perfect place to set up passes before turn three. The run out of one and two will be crucial for lap time and setting passes up. As we scream by the gigantic screen, you will notice on the broadcast how much the car moves. The backstretch is also bumpy like the corners. So, it’ll be important to make sure the splitter isn’t skimming the ground, scrubbing precious speed. 

To set up for turn three, there is a white line that crosses from the wall to the apron on entry. I use that as a braking marker. Braking is usually done a few hundred feet before the line. I try to get my left side tires to skim a white dot in the middle of the line. From there, it’s similar to one and two: choose the bottom or the middle.

However, the high line becomes an option on this end of the speedway because of the slower speeds compared to one and two. There is much more off-throttle time and handling will be the biggest factor on this end. The bottom is bumpier than turn one and two with the middle being the preferred line for a looser car. 

The name of the game at Charlotte Motor Speedway is getting through the bumps and keeping up your momentum. If you can do that, survive the duration of the race and hold off your competition, you will find yourself in victory lane after a hard day’s work!

Now, it’s winning time! Here’s our picks for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
With seven different picks for tonight's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, it's a wide open race!

With seven different picks for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, it’s a wide open race!

Hobbs :  Not only do stats come into play for the Coca-Cola 600, but physical and mental endurace is a huge lurking variable. After running just a few short days ago, these men have to do a quick turnaround to be physically and mentally prepared for 600 miles of racing. I think Denny Hamlin can get it done on Sunday!

Jones :  This is a man that has something to prove. Not looking at Daytona, he has had solid finishes all season (albeit it a wonky and short season!). But, he needs a little something to put an entire race together. Brad Keselowski, his new crew chief, and team put the pieces together and come out victorious on Sunday night!

Marscheschi : After a great run last Sunday at Darlington was cut short due to an error by Johnson, he’ll be looking for redemption. What better place to do it than at one of his best tracks? Jimmie Johnson has eight wins at Charlotte, more than double the count of any other active driver. Four of these were in the Coca Cola 600. With Hendrick’s intermediate program looking better than ever, Johnson looks set to return to victory lane in NASCAR’s longest race.

Shoppe :  It’s time for William Byron to finally win on a real track! And in 24 car fashion, it will come in the Coke 600 at Charlotte!

Tiongson :  Evidently, my father is quite the swami of NASCAR predictions. He went two for two in our personal race picks. I guess the saying that father knows best is true. So let’s put it to the test and go with Joey Logano for the Coca-Cola 600 win simply because my dad is that intuition!

Sisoler :  Last year, I got burned a couple different times by forgetting just how solid Kevin Harvick really is at a lot of tracks. Not this time. With three wins and after tonight’s race, the 44-year old pilot of the 4 will have his fourth victory at Charlotte.

TPF Stats :  He’s got a Coca-Cola 600 win, he’s victorious this season, he’s the best this season thus far; yes ladies and gentlemen, Kevin Harvick to victory lane for the second time in a week.

Lambeth :  After getting wrecked by Kyle Busch at Darlington, NASCAR’s most popular driver will be fired up. In fact, he’s ready to pounce in tonight’s Coca-Cola 600. Chase Elliott will have the si-reen blasting loud on Sunday night in Dawsonville, Georgia!

Luttrell :  I’m calling Chase Elliott for the win at the Coca-Cola 600 this year. Since we came back to racing, he has shown strength, speed, and a strong desire to win. After the mishap on Wednesday, I fully expect to see him back up front. Elliott seeks that victory he was so close to at Darlington.

Our ALSCO 500k at Charlotte picks will publish on Tuesday night! Stay tuned.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Coca-Cola 600 and ALSCO 500k!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday night’s race? How about on Wednesday night’s race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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