COCA-COLA 600 News and Notes

COCA-COLA 600 News and Notes

COCA-COLA 600 - Odds to Win

Jimmie Johnson     4-1

Tony Stewart     7-1

Jeff Gordon     5-1

Matt Kenseth     8-1

Kevin Harvick     20-1

Denny Hamlin     15-1

Kyle Busch     15-1

Dale Earnhardt Jr 15-1

Jeff Burton     15-1

Kurt Busch     15-1

Mark Martin     18-1

Carl Edwards     18-1

Kasey Kahne     20-1

Greg Biffle     20-1

Clint Bowyer     20-1

Jamie McMurray     35-1

Martin Truex Jr     35-1

Ryan Newman      40-1

Juan Pablo Montoya  40-1

Casey Mears     50-1

Scott Riggs     100-1

Elliott Sadler     100-1

Reed Sorenson     100-1

Bobby Labonte     100-1

David Stremme     100-1

Joe Nemechek  100-1

Dave Blaney   100-1

JJ Yeley       100-1

Jeff Green     100-1

Ricky Rudd     100-1

Tony Raines    100-1

David Gilliland 100-1

David Ragan     100-1

Field (Any Other Driver) 50-1

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RacingOne Power Rankings

Driver Ratings

The latest edition of the RacingOne NEXTEL Cup Series Power Rankings as the series heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway for this weekend's All-Star Challenge and next weekend's Coca-Cola 600, which features NASCAR's comprehensive statistical ratings system using a detailed formula to calculate each driver's performance.

Editor's Note: Top 10 rankings are generated by a formula combining the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish. Maximum: 150 points per race. Must have raced in 75 percent of scheduled point-paying races.

1. Jeff Gordon - Must have found out how much diapers and formula really costs because he's finding every way possible to pick-up first place prize money these days.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 16.5
Charlotte Wins: 4

2. Jimmie Johnson - Already has four wins and gets to run on his "home" track the next two weeks in Charlotte. Not good news for the rest of the field.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 5.8
Charlotte Wins: 5

3. Tony Stewart - Teammate Hamlin must have drank out of Stewart's glass with all the questions about NASCAR throwing caution flags - or not - last weekend.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 13.7
Charlotte Wins: 1

4. Denny Hamlin - Throwing the crew under the bus doesn't seem like the best idea.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 15.0
Charlotte Wins: 0

5. Matt Kenseth - Loves Lowe's Motor Speedway and has another one of those seasons going where no one picks him but at the end, there he is.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 14.8
Charlotte Wins: 1

6. Kurt Busch - The No. 2 car was good Sunday at Darlington and Busch deserved a better finish than what ended up.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 21.3
Charlotte Wins: 0

7. Jeff Burton - Things have been kind of quiet for the Cingular squad - wonder how much longer we'll be able to call the No. 31 bunch that name?

Charlotte Finishing Average: 15.3
Charlotte Wins: 2

8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Still in a pressure cooker even though he made his DEI divorce announcement last week.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 17.4
Charlotte Wins: 0

9. Kyle Busch - Needs a little of that Hendrick mojo to come his way.

Charlotte Finishing Average: 29.0
Charlotte Wins: 0

10. Kevin Harvick - Where has the No. 29 car been lately?

Charlotte Finishing Average: 20.2
Charlotte Wins: 0

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Weekend Preview
May 22, 2007
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com


INDY 500 vs. NASCAR’s Coca-Cola

This Sunday is one of the most fun days of the year for Auto Racing enthusiasts across the country. The morning begins with the 91st Indianapolis 500 and then it’s coupled with a day-night double header of sorts where NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 takes center stage from Charlotte. Both events are televised on national TV with ABC covering Indy and FOX going into primetime with NASCAR.

A few years ago in Las Vegas we started to see a transition in Auto Racing interest on the “Memorial Day of Remembrance” weekend. The NASCAR race was catching the popularity of the Indy 500, not only in TV ratings, but also at the Las Vegas betting windows. Around the 1998 season, NASCAR became much more attractive for bettors allocating their Holiday weekend gambling money. By the time the 2001 season came around, NASCAR had lapped the Indy cars in popularity at the windows by a two to one margin. Fast forward to 2006 and NASCAR put another full lap on Indy by taking three times as much action for the Coca-Cola.

Based on the way Indy 500 action has been reported from a few books around town this year, the Coca-Cola 600 may put a few more laps on the Indy 500. There is no way to sugar coat the phrase, “slower than ever”, when bookies have mentioned their action on this years Indy 500.

So what’s the cause of slow action at the windows and overall public interest?

Is it lack of driver recognition?
Is it lack of rivalries?
How about lack of competitive cars and teams?

I think it’s a little bit of, “all of the above”, mixed in with the fact that oval racing fans now prefer to see the stock cars bumping and banging around the track. If you bump an Indy car of the track, the car basically disintegrates. In NASCAR, if you bump someone you just bring the car in, bend the sheet metal back into shape, and throw some tape on it……In other words the cars are much more forgiving which makes up for them being so heavy, bulky, and boxy equating to less agility.

The beauty of seeing the Indy 500 years ago was because the turbo charged Champ Cars used to be almost exclusively a road course or street circuit series. To see those magnificent cars, set so precise, come ripping around the tight turns of Indy and then flat out drag race down the long strips and then repeat the process going as fast as possible with minimal breaking, Wow! I mean, it was an impressive sight.

What the INDY 500 means to ME

Regardless of all the shortcomings the current Indy 500 has in popularity, it will still always have a spot on my television. As long as they race on that weekend, I’m in! For me, The Indy 500 is an American institution and conjures up so many past personal memories of being together with my grandfather and father.

On those weekends, I learned an enormous amount about my own family history and their involvement in American battles throughout time. Through the words of my grandfather I learned of our family’s sacrifice in the American Revolution and Civil War, the awful fate of his cousin in the Bataan Death March, his brother who gave his life flying for the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and his own bout with frost bite in the Battle of the Bulge.

The stories came just came rapid fire, one after another, and he loved telling them because he could tell how interested I was. When he’d tell the stories, it was like I could visualize the scene in my head. It was so compelling. With the stories of terror, there were also the different emotions from humorous anecdotes along with the wild things the guys would do that you could see stirring in his eyes.

Meanwhile, the car race was going on. We’d pause every so often in discussion and give our attention to the TV with a wreck or a great pass. Towards the end of the race, that was the signal to get the coals started on the grill. Those weekends became a tradition that now evokes so many emotions since his passing. All I can do is keep the tradition alive and pass on the great stories that I listened to with great interest.

It was those weekends that gave my grandfather, father, and I a special bond that could never be broken. Despite not always seeing eye to eye with my father later on, we always had car races and baseball that kept us on a neutral ground and made us both happy while discussing.

So for simply being just an institution, a symbol of Americana, and a Memorial for me to take time and pay my respects, the Indy 500 will always have my attention with a salute.

Coca-Cola 600

Most of the drivers will be using different cars for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, different from what they used in last weeks All Star Challenge. Despite the chassis' being different, those that were top performers in the non-points race should fare equally well in the longest, most grueling race of the Cup season.

Jimmie Johnson is the 4 to 1 favorite followed by teammate Jeff Gordon at 6 to 1. Johnson has all the data in his favor for this race. While Johnson has all the past history on his side, all Gordon has on his side is just being so good everywhere this season. After being so good at Charlotte to begin his career, such as winning his first career race in 1994, it’s been a rough place for him since last winning there in 1999.

The next contender is Matt Kenseth at 9 to 1. Based on the way he’s run at the similar banked 1.5 mile tracks at Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Texas, he should probably be considered to be favored more than Jeff Gordon. Kenseth was a surprise winner of this race in 2000. It still remains his only points race win at Charlotte. However, he’s got plenty of top 5’s littered in between since then and has averaged a 13th place finish since 2000. Only Bobby Labonte has been better over that same span.

Jeff Burton comes in at 14 to 1 on the basis of his win on a similar type track at Texas this season. He won this race in 2001 and was the 2nd of 3 straight Roush drivers to win the Coca-Cola 600. Then, the music played and said, “Move over, let me Jimmie take over.”

Johnson caught fire and won three straight Coke 600’s before Kasey Kahne finally stopped him last year. Burton comes into a situation almost like Kahne did last year because he won at Texas. However, just like Kahne last year, Johnson won in Atlanta and Vegas for good measure.

The All Star Challenge winner, Kevin Harvick, has odds of 18 to 1 placed on him despite the big win. The belief behind the big odds on Harvick is that over 600 miles, he's likely to be closer to what he's shown at Texas, Las Vegas, and Atlanta over the long haul than what he showed in a 20 lap dash. The average finish on the three similar tracks this year was 27th.

I liked Kurt Busch last week and I still believe that if his brother hadn’t wrecked him, he would have made a great run for the win. I believe this team has turned the corner and they’ll turn a great test session from a few weeks ago into a quality result this week with their top chassis.

Beating Johnson at this distance is a really tall task, but I believe Busch, Kenseth, Burton and Mark Martin can all be close. If any kind of mishap occurs, one of them should be the beneficiary. Further down the line on the odds chart is Martin Truex Jr who could be a decent investment based on his three combined runs at Vegas, Atlanta, and Charlotte that saw and average finish of 9th from him.

NASCAR vs INDY CAR Propositions

Because it is such huge day for Race fans, there are a few props that link the two together. The main proposition asks who will have a better finish Sunday, 3 time Coca-Cola 600 winner Jimmie Johnson or two time Indy 500 winner Helio CastroNeves. Castroneves is a slight favorite despite all of Johnson's accomplishments at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The math of only having 33 cars starting at Indy to 43 in NASCAR coupled with the large gap between quality cars in Indy, where it appears only five cars have a real shot at winning, give the Penske driver a theoretic edge. It truly is a great example of just how great Johnson has been in Charlotte because of all the great competition in NASCAR today.

Top 5 Coca-Cola 600 Finish prediction:

1) #17 Matt Kenseth (9/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (4/1)
3) #31 Jeff Burton (14/1)
4) #2 Kurt Busch (15/1)
5) #01 Mark Martin (17/1)

Top 5 Indy 500 Finish Prediction

1) #6 Sam Hornish Jr (9/2)
2) #11 Tony Kanaan (9/2)
3) #10 Dan Wheldon ( 9/2)
4) #3 Helio CastroNeves (4/1)
5) #27 Dario Franchitti (8/1)

COCA-COLA 600 ODDS & ENDS

# There have been 96 Cup races since the first race there in 1960 – including two qualifying races in 1961 that were points races.
# Fireball Roberts won the first Cup Pole in 1960.
# J.L. Johnson won the first Cup race in 1960.
# There have been 36 different Bud Pole winners; 23 have won more than one.
# There have been 40 race-winners; 25 have more than one victory there.
# The 1993 spring race was the first to be scheduled to start at twilight and end under the lights.
# Evernham Motorsports completely swept in 2006 with Scott Riggs winning both Bud Poles and Kasey Kahne winning both races.
# There have been just three different race winners in the last eight races: Jimmie Johnson (five), Kasey Kahne (two) and Tony Stewart (one).
# Thirteen of 96 races have been won by the Bud Pole winner, but only one in the past 17 races (Jimmie Johnson, 2004 Coca-Cola 600).
# Jeff Gordon has won from the pole three times, most of any active driver. David Pearson also won from the pole three times.
# The last seven races have been won from a top 10 starting position.
# Jimmie Johnson’s starting position of 37th at the 2003 Coca-Cola 600 was the lowest starting position by a race winner.
# There have been four shortened races – most recently in the spring of 2003.
# There has been one green-white-checkered finish: October 2005.
# Jimmie Johnson has competed in just 11 races, yet he has five victories (46%). He has scored 10 top 10 finishes in those 11 races and has failed to finish just once. Johnson also has won two Bud Poles and started from the top 10 nine times.
# Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin have won both Cup and Busch Series races there: Martin (six), Burton (two), Gordon (two), Jarrett (two) and Kenseth (two) have multiple NASCAR Busch Series wins there.
# Greg Biffle (two), Kyle Busch (two), Carl Edwards (one), Jeff Green (two), Joe Nemechek (one), Ryan Newman (one) and Michael Waltrip (two) have all won a Busch Series race there.
# Kyle Busch has won two Truck Series races there.
# Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 races there – five more than any other car owner.

CHARLOTTE STREAKERS

# Greg Biffle has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four Charlotte races.
# Carl Edwards has finished in the top 10 in four consecutive Charlotte races.
# Jimmie Johnson has finished in the top three in eight consecutive Charlotte races and the top 10 in the last 10 races there. He has also started in the top 10 in the last seven Lowe’s races.

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Coca-Cola 600 PreQ    
       
With the dominance the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet has displayed at Lowe’s Motor Speedway it is no wonder that Jimmie Johnson is ranked as the top driver on the PreQ forecast for the Coca-Cola 600. In the last eight races at the track Johnson has finished no worse than 3rd place with five wins as he is averaging a first place finish in the last four races. Not only has Johnson been winning the 600 mile event but he has been among the strongest in the All-Star Challenge. Johnson didn’t quite make it to victory lane, and the 1 million dollar paycheck, last weekend but he did post his fifth top 5 in six All-Star starts. Johnson knows this track and with the dominance Hendrick Motorsports has displayed this season expect yet another big day out of the team.

Last points race Denny Hamlin tore into his crew for a pit road mishap. It was, by Hamlin’s accounts, the fourth time this season the team cost him a chance at the win. There have been wholesale changes with the pit crew in hopes to appease Hamlin. He will now have no excuse if he fails to make it to victory lane. Hamlin should be competitive on the track as he has a pair of top 10s at Lowe’s in three career starts with an average finish of 15th place. He jumps to the No. 2 spot on the PreQ forecast due to his current hot streak in which he is averaging a 6th place finish in the last six races. Hamlin has the ability, and apparently now the crew, to make it to victory lane soon.

One of the #99 Office Depot Ford crew members has vowed not to shave his beard until Carl Edwards makes it back to victory lane. It has been two years and almost 50 races since Edwards has made it to victory lane. You can bet that crewmember desperately wants to see Edwards take the checkered flag first just as bad as Edwards. This could be a race in which that streak comes to an end. In four career starts at Lowe’s Edwards has finished each in the top 10 with an average finish of 6th place. He was strong in the Open during the All Star Challenge before fading at the end. If his team can figure out why is car got tight after the long green flag run, which they should be able to do, Edwards will be very competitive in the 600.

There has been plenty made of the Busch brother’s incident during the All Star Challenge in which younger brother Kyle took out older brother Kurt. It shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as both drivers are aggressive and there was a million dollars up for grabs. However, Kyle Busch has not been the best of drivers at Lowe’s and fantasy players may want to avoid the #5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet for the 600. In six starts at the track Kyle Busch has finished better than 25th just once as he averages a 29th place finish in his career. He has performed even more poorly in the 600 races averaging a 32nd place finish in three career starts. While the Hendrick boys may be hot staying away from the younger Busch would be a wise move.

Even though Kevin Harvick was the winner of the All Star Challenge he may not be the best choice for a top finish in the 600. In 12 career starts at Lowe’s Harvick has failed to finish in the top 20 six times with an average finish of 20th place. He does have a 2nd place finish in his career at the track but that came in his first ever start during the 2001 season. Since that season he has posted just one top 10 (10th in 2003) with a total of four finishes in the top 20. Harvick is not the cream of the crop when it comes to high-banked superspeedway racing and fantasy players should consider keeping him out of their lineup for this race.

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Could track position be spoiler in Sunday's race ?
SCENEDAILY

CONCORD, N.C. - Will the fastest car really win the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night? Not if the Nextel Cup team with the fastest car loses too much track position, Matt Kenseth says.

After competing in the Nextel All-Star Challenge race a week ago, teams commented about how hard the tire compound is that Goodyear uses at the track and how difficult that makes it to complete a pass at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Kenseth says that could continue to be a factor Sunday and could, in fact, determined the outcome of the race.

"The biggest thing I think we all learned from watching and being part of it is you need to be in the front," he said. "Every week you want to be in the front, but it was very difficult when you got behind. Your car was a lot slower if you weren't in the lead than when you were in the lead."

Kenseth saw both sides of that, leading laps in the race but then restarting at the back for the final segment after being assessed a penalty for speeding on pit road.

He says that the loss of track position for any reasons could end the winning chances of a team come Sunday night.

"You can take, I think, a fourth- or fifth-place car and if you put it in the lead, you can win with it and vice versa," he said Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. "You can take a winning car and put it in fifth or sixth, and there's no way you're going to get back up and win the race. It was very difficult to pass.

"The tire is so hard that when you get in dirty air it's hard to get any grip, so I guess that's the biggest thing is track position is going to be very important. You're not going to want to make a mistake and lose track position at the end."

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Driver Handicaps: Charlotte

This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series returns to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 400-lap event.

Who's HOT at Lowe's

Jimmie Johnson has the best average finish among all drivers at 5.8.

Mark Martin leads all drivers with 17 top fives.

Evernham Motorsports won both poles and races with drivers Scott Riggs and Kasey Kahne in 2006.

Greg Biffle has the best driver rating among the Ford drivers.

Including Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 races – five more than any other car owner.

Carl Edwards has yet to finish outside the top 10 in four starts.

Ryan Newman has the best starting average at 4.5.

Bobby Labonte has the best average finish (8.9) among all drivers that have raced in every event since 1998.

Runnin' It - Who Else to Watch

Kevin Harvick will return in the same car that won last Saturday's All-Star Challenge.

Matt Kenseth will race the same car that won the first and third segments in the All-Star race last Saturday.

Jeff Burton will pilot the same car that won at Texas in April.

Martin Truex Jr. will pilot the same car that finished eighth at Atlanta and seventh at Texas.

Tony Stewart will return in the same car that scored three wins last year during the 10-race Chase for the Cup.

Kurt Busch will be back behind the wheel of the same car that led 42 laps en route to an 11th-place finish at Texas.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is driving the same chassis that finished in the top 10 in eight of its nine starts in 2006.

Track Performers

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead all drivers with eight wins each on 1.5-mile speedways. Johnson is the most recent winner among the two after his win at Las Vegas in March. Mark Martin (7), Tony Stewart (6) and Jeff Burton (6) round out the top five in wins. Martin leads all drivers with 46 top-10 finishes, followed by Gordon with 40. Ryan Newman is the current pole leader on 1.5-mile tracks with nine. In 2007, Gordon and Matt Kenseth are tied for the best average finish on 1.5-mile speedways at 3.0.

Lowe's Rookie Report

Paul Menard and David Reutimann are the only Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates that have made a NEXTEL Cup start at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Menard has the only start in the Coca-Cola 600, finishing 14th in 2006. Along with Menard and Reutimann, David Ragan is the only other rookie that has started a Busch and Truck Series race at LMS. Juan Pablo Montoya, who is the only rookie that has not made a points paying NASCAR start at LMS, has the best average finish (15.0) among the class on 1.5-mile speedways in 2007. A.J. Allmendinger has the most momentum of the rookie crop after finishing second in his first truck race at Lowe's last Friday. Rookie Standings

Qualifying Tidbits

Scott Riggs swept both poles in 2006 to give Dodge their sixth pole in the last eight races at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Elliott Sadler won his first pole at LMS in the 2005 fall race after setting the current qualifying record at 193.216 mph. It marked the first pole by a Ford at LMS since 2001 when Jimmy Spencer took the top spot in Travis Carter's No. 26 in this event. Ryan Newman, who has the best starting average at 4.5, won the pole for the 2005 Coca-Cola 600, marking his fifth pole in 12 attempts at LMS. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven poles in 28 starts. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Charlotte Winners

Looking For Speed

After winning both poles in 2006, Scott Riggs holds the best average start (12.8) at Lowe's Motor Speedway among all drivers required to qualify on speed. Even though he has the past champions provisional to fall back on, Bill Elliott is second among the group in starting average (14.4) and first with four career poles. Ward Burton is the only other driver who has won a pole at LMS. Dave Blaney had the best qualifying speed (181.775, 11th overall) amomg the group at Las Vegas, which was the last 1.5-mile track where qualifying was contested in 2007. Qualifying Averages

*RacingOne Staff Picks

Jeff Wackerlin: Jimmie Johnson
Pete Pistone: Jeff Burton
Jorge Mondaca: Mark Martin
Rachael West: Carl Edwards

*Note: Drivers can be selected only one time per season. Race points will be added up each week. This is the fourth race of the season for this section of the handicaps. Standings

Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings

1. Jeff Gordon (Points: 1881): Gordon is tied for second with Mark Martin among active drivers with four victories (three in the 600) and leads all with seven poles at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Gordon is coming off four consecutive DNFs at LMS. His last of 13 top fives came in the 2004 fall race when he finished second. Last year's fall race marked the 19th race Gordon has led a lap at LMS. Overall he has led 460 circuits - the eighth most among all drivers. This weekend, Gordon will return in the same car that performed well in last Saturday night's All-Star race before it hit some debris while running second.

2. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind: -231): Johnson has finished in the top 10, with five wins, in 10 of the 11 races he's competed in at Lowe's Motor Speedway. His 2003 Coca-Cola 600 win, one of three 600 wins, came from the furthest starting position in 37th. His finishing average of 5.8, coupled with a 39th-place finish in his first start, leads all drivers. Johnson, who has led 956 laps over the last 10 consecutive races at LMS, will race chassis No. 48363 this weekend. This is the same car that won the All-Star race last year and led 72 laps en route to a runner-up finish in the fall race at LMS.

3. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: -299): Kenseth has captured seven top-10 finishes at Lowe's Motor Speedway, including his first NEXTEL Cup win in 2000. His victory total also includes a win in the All-Star race and two wins in the Busch Series. Kenseth has led in 10 races at the speedway for 169 laps and has suffered three DNFs, most recently in this event in 2005. This weekend he will race the same car (chassis No. RK-323) that raced in the All-Star race last Saturday.

4. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: -342): After finishing eighth and ninth, respectively, in his first two NEXTEL Cup starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a lap one crash knocked him of contention in last year's fall race. He was able to continue in that event to finish 28th. Hamlin led his most laps (25) at LMS in this event last year.

5. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: -395): Burton has raced in five events at Lowe's Motor Speedway with Richard Childress Racing. His best finishes with the team came last year when he placed sixth and third, respectively. This event last year, marked the first time in seven races Burton has led laps (12) at the 1.5-mile track. The majority of Burton's 26 starts at LMS came with Roush Racing - the team he scored his two LMS wins with in the 1999 and 2001 Coca-Cola 600. In the events Burton won, he led a combined 323 laps. This weekend Burton will pilot the same car (chassis No. 155) that won at Texas in April.

6. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: -506): Stewart's May track time in 2006 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the NEXTEL Cup Coca-Cola 600, All-Star race and Busch Series race were abbreviated to 114 laps, after he suffered crashes. He finished 42nd in the Cup race with only 32 laps run on the newly-paved surface. This finish came on the heels of finishes the previous year of 24th and 25th. However, he did bounce back in last year's fall race to finish 13th after starting 31st. In 16 starts at Lowe's, Stewart has captured six top-five and nine top-10 finishes. In the last 11 races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Stewart has led 430 laps. He led 149 of them en route to his 2003 victory in the fall event. This weekend he will return in the same car (chassis No. 120) that scored three wins last year during the 10-race Chase for the Cup.

7. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: -556): Last year, Busch finished 39th and 32nd, respectively, in his first two starts with Penske Racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He was involved in an early-race crash last year in this event, which relegated him to a 39th-place finish in his first start at Lowe's in the No. 2. Busch started seventh and finished second in the 2005 fall race with Roush Racing, marking his best finish and second top five at the track in 13 starts. Busch will be back behind the wheel of the same car (chassis PSC-078) that led 42 laps en route to an 11th-place finish in March at Texas.

8. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: -566): Harvick posted his best finish (second) at Lowe's Motor Speedway in his first track start in 2001 (Coca-Cola 600). His last of three top 10s came in the 2003 fall race. Since then, Harvick has posted a finishing average of 25.5, including one DNF (36th) in the 2004 fall race. This weekend Harvick will drive the same car (chassis No. 179) that won last Saturday's All-Star Challenge.

9. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: -579): Bowyer put together an average finish of 21.0 in his two starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway during his rookie season in 2006. He will debut a new chassis (No. 201) in the Coca-Cola 600.

10. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: -590): Edwards has the second best average finish (6.0) among all active drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He has made four Cup starts, finishing third in both of his Coca-Cola 600 starts. Edwards has led in three races for 33 laps, including a combined 21 in the 600s. Edwards will be in chassis No. RK-272 this weekend. He last raced this car at Las Vegas where it finished sixth.

11. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: -600): At 29.0, Lowe's Motor Speedway is Busch's worst track by finishing average where he has made six or more starts. Last fall, Busch posted his first top 20 at LMS after finishing sixth. This weekend he will be back in the same car (chassis No. 412) that was tested at LMS after finishing ninth at Las Vegas earlier in the year.

12. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind: -667): Lowe's Motor Speedway is home to McMurray's first and only NASCAR Cup victory. He won the fall event in his second NASCAR Cup career start in 2002. Since then, he's made eight starts at the track, which is statistically his eighth best track on the circuit. In those starts, he's finished in the top five twice and the top 10 five times. One of those top 10's came in this event last year in his first start at Lowe's with Roush Racing. His 15.4 average finish at Lowe's is the ninth best among active drivers. The team will be bringing chassis RK-428 to the track this weekend. This is the car that McMurray finished fifth with at Texas in April.

13. Ryan Newman (Points Behind: -718): Up until last season, Newman had qualifying figured out at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In his other 10 starts at the track he started within the top four every time, scoring five poles, two second-place and three fourth-place starts giving him a starting average of 4.5. His qualifying success hasn't translated as well to the race finishes. Newman has three top-five and five top-10 finishes at LMS and three DNFs. Newman's best finish, of second, came in the 2003 fall event and he has led a total of 222 laps over six different races. The No. 12 team is bringing chassis PRS-71 to the track this weekend. This is the same car that finished eighth at Las Vegas and won the pole at Atlanta.

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind: -721): In 2005, Earnhardt Jr. posted his third and fourth finishes of 30th or worse in 15 races at Lowe's Motor Speedway. His 42nd-place finish in the 2005 fall race was his worst finish at the track and third DNF. Last year, Junior was able to bounce back with finishes of 11th and fourth, respectively. His third-place finish in the 2004 fall race was his career best at the track. In the 2000 May race, Dale Jr. won his first career Cup pole and became the first rookie to win the All-Star race the prior weekend. Earnhardt will be behind the wheel of the same car (chassis No. 39) that scored a number of top 10s in 2006, including the fall race at LMS.

15. Mark Martin (Points Behind: -722): Three of Mark Martin's victories at Lowe's Motor Speedway came in the fall event in 1992, 1995 and 1998. Martin's only top 10s since winning the 2002 Coca-Cola 600 has been in two of the last three races when he finished fifth and fourth, respectively. He is second among active drivers in laps led (1,168) and first in top-five finishes at LMS with 17. This weekend Martin will be driving in his first points paying race at LMS with Ginn Racing. He finished third with the team in the series' last race on a 1.5-mile speedway at Texas.

16. Greg Biffle (Points Behind: -726): Biffle has made eight starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway. His best finish there was third in the 2005 fall race, marking his only top five and third top-10 finish. In addition to his Cup record at Charlotte, Biffle has two wins, five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Busch Series. His team is running the Dish Network paint scheme on chassis No. RK-439, which was raced this season at Texas where it finished sixth. This weekend Chris Andrews will serve as interim crew chief for Greg Biffle before handing over the duties to Greg Erwin next week.

17. Elliott Sadler
(Points Behind: -754): Sadler started on the pole for the 2005 fall event at Lowe's Motor Speedway with his former team - Robert Yates Racing. He started fourth and finished 35th in his first start with Evernham Motorsports last October. In 17 starts at the track he's started in the top 10 nine times. He's posted one top-five and two top-10 finishes at the track, with a best finish of fifth in this event in 2004. Additionally, he's led 189 laps at the 1.5-mile track.

18. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: -764): Truex's best finish in three career starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway came in this event in 2005. The seventh-place finish came in his first career start at LMS after leading four laps. This weekend he will pilot the same car (chassis No. 048) that finished eighth at Atlanta and seventh at Texas.

19. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind: -774): Labonte will make his 29th career start at Lowe's, and third there with Petty Enterprises on Sunday. He is coming off his best finish with Petty at LMS after finishing fifth last fall. Labonte has won twice at LMS, recording his first career win there in May 1995 and last winning in the fall event in 2000. Lowe's is Labonte's best track based on finishing average at 12.8 thanks to 12 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.

20. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind: -795): In, 2006, Yeley finished 20th and 29th, respectively, in his first two starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

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Re: COCA-COLA 600 News and Notes

Newman Gives Penske Holiday Sweep
J.J. O'Malley
Racing One.com

Two weeks ago, Helio Castroneves gave Roger Penske the pole position for the 91st Indianapolis 500.

Friday night, Ryan Newman gave Penske Racing a sweep of the poles for the Memorial Day Weekend classics by capturing his fourth pole for the Coca-Cola 600.

The driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge turned a quick lap of 185.312 mph, good enough for his fourth pole position for his sixth career pole at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

"It's a big deal for Roger," Newman said. "Each race is equally important to him, and I look forward to the opportunity to get him into Victory Lane -- not only Roger Penske, but everyone at Penske Racing, and all the effort and emphasis they've put on this race. Roger and I joked about it, that there's a car (at Indianapolis) for me if I want it, but I always said I didn't want to take any time away from our emphasis on the Cup car. It's ironic, because growing up in Indiana, I was always a fan of stock cars."


In the final moments of qualifying, teammate Kurt Busch ran a lap of 185.065 mph in the Miller Lite Dodge to give Penske Racing both front row positions for the longest race on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule.

Newman wasn’t sure he won his 39th career NEXTEL Cup Series pole when the checkered flag waved at the conclusion of his qualifying run.

“I looked and saw the No. 19 on top,” Newman said. “I guess when you’re running 200 mph it doesn’t update too quickly.”

Sadler’s run of 185.001 in Ray Evernham’s Fantastic Four Dodge held on to the inside of the second row. Fastest in practice, he qualified early in the session before the track began to cool.

“I left a lot on the table,” said Sadler, whose 2005 pole run of 193.216 mph remains the track record. “It was a bitter sweet run. I made a few mistakes out there. The guys gave me a car perfect enough to get on the pole, I just messed it up a little bit. I was so overanxious getting in the corner.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., working without suspended crew chief Tony Eury Jr., clocked in fourth with a lap of 184.634 mph in the camouflage-themed Budweiser Chevrolet.

“We tried an experimental car for the NEXTEL All Star Challenge, and it didn’t work out,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I knew this car was great from when we rolled it off the trailer. That’s basically the way we qualified the car.”

Starting in the third row for Sunday evening’s race will be Matt Kenseth, who ran 184.231 mph in the R&L Carriers Ford, and Denny Hamlin, who ran 184.225 mph in the FedEx Chevrolet. Rounding out the top 10 were Ricky Rudd, Dave Blaney, Bobby Labonte and David Stremme.

It was a bittersweet evening for Michael Waltrip Racing. Dale Jarrett qualified 22nd with a lap of 182.389 mph in his Toyota, while his teammates both crashed on their qualifying runs to miss the show. For car owner Michael Waltrip, it was his 11th consecutive DNQ since he made the season-opening Daytona 500 as he lost control on his second qualifying lap. Rookie David Reutimann crashed on his first qualifying lap. Jeff Green also was involved in a qualifying accident.

Joining Waltrip and Reutimann in missing the event were Paul Menard, Ward Burton, Kevin Lepage and Mike Bliss.

There is no scheduled NASCAR activity at Lowe’s Motor Speedway Friday. Final NEXTEL Cup Series practice begins at 6:20 p.m. Saturday, followed by the Carquest Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Busch Series race at 8:10 p.m.

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 is set to take the green flag at 5:40 p.m.

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Kenseth, Busch to challenge Chevy at Lowe's
FoxSports.com

Teams learned a tremendous amount last weekend, but more than just the walls changed from yellow to white at Lowe's Motor Speedway since the Nextel All-Star Challenge.

We've had no rain, and it doesn't look like there's any in the forecast. Saturday night's Busch race will put 300 miles worth of rubber down on the track. With a hard tire combination, Ryan Newman won the pole with a lap nearly a full second behind teammate Kurt Busch's fast lap in Nextel All-Star Challenge qualifying last week.

Who to Watch
# Jimmie Johnson: Teams have to be very aggressive with their changes — even if they're leading — when it turns nighttime and the track cools down a substantial amount. That's when Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are so good. It's one reason that they won three consecutive 600-mile races and backed it up with a second-place finish last year to Kasey Kahne.

# Johnny Sauter: It has all the makings of a Chevrolet weekend. A sleeper in this event will be Sauter. I was very impressed with him in the Nextel Open. He ran well last year at Lowe's, and he ran well in the Nextel All-Star Challenge. The things the No. 70 team learned will help them step up their program from where they were last week.

# Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch: If I had to pick two cars that will be able to run with these Chevrolets — based on the whole year and the other night — it would be Kenseth and Busch. Each had among the fastest laps in qualifying and the longer the all-star race went, the better they made their cars. Both Penske cars, Busch and Ryan Newman, should be good.

# Chevrolets in charge: All of the Hendrick cars are running well. All of the Childress cars should run well, and look for Joe Gibbs Racing to be better this week than they were last week.

# Carl Edwards: After dominating the Nextel Open only to finish third, Edwards learned a lot last week. The No. 99 car had one of the better cars in the Open until the end of a fuel run when the car got way too tight as the track cooled down.

Who not to watch
# Evernham Motorsports: Back in the winter, it would have been easy to pick all three Evernham cars for this race, but I don't see it happening right now.

# Toyota: The Camrys will still just be also-rans.

# Other Fords: I just don't know about the Yates Fords and Bill Elliott for the Wood Brothers.

What to Watch
# Engine anxiety: One hundred miles longer than any other race, the engine builders and tuners will be very nervous, and it will be the story of our Saturday practice sessions on SPEED (3:30 and 6 p.m. ET). Teams will allow themselves substantial track time to learn everything they need to learn to prepare for the race, but they won't run those engines to death. As the night goes on, and the track gets cooler, the cars will get faster, and 400 laps is 800 cycles at a very high rpm.

# Building a better car: A lot of teams will bring different cars — and in most cases, better cars — than they ran last week, some by design and some not by design. Obviously, this is a points event this weekend, which matters more in the big picture.

# Build in adjustability: Teams have to be prepared with a very good game plan for an ever-changing racetrack, which will go through two major transitions. When the sun peeks behind the grandstand, it's still daylight, but the sun isn't beating down on the track, and you're going to have to get pretty aggressive with your changes. But you have to be very aggressive with your changes at night. It's one reason we will see comers and goers. Some drivers will run really well from laps 1 to 100, 150 or 200. Last year, Johnny Sauter and Jeff Green faded at the end because they didn't keep up with the track. Other drivers will start coming to life near the end of the race, just like Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin were better suited to run at the end of the Nextel All-Star Challenge. In the perfect world, teams figure out how to make it good all night long. Jeff Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham were so successful because they understood how to make major adjustments as the track changed

# Tape on the nose: Besides wedge, air pressure and track bar, you'll see guys throw tape on the noses last in the race as night falls and the air temperature cools down. It will help the drag of the car down the straightaway, and it will help the car turn.

# Bouncing rubbers: Teams run a spring rubber in the left rear spring that keeps the car secure and tight. As the track cools down, drivers need the cars to turn better so they will pop out the spring rubber. You'll also see teams throw rubbers into the right rear spring, but it's much easier to start with a rubber and get rid of it than it is to try to put in one, which slows down pit stops.

Putting the weekend in perspective
With 175,000 to 200,000 people at Lowe's Motor Speedway, we feel very safe thanks to the men and women fighting for our freedom overseas. While we remember the people that are all over the globe right now, don't forget the familes and friends of the soldiers who were not fortunate enough to make it home. Over the course of Memorial Day weekend, there will be a lot of special paint schemes, paying tribute to the armed forces.

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Harvick hopes to teach Jimmie a Lowe's lesson
FOX Sports

Racing for the Nextel All-Star Challenge win, Kevin Harvick may have picked up little nuggets that could come back to haunt Jimmie Johnson.

It's just a matter of backing off the gas sooner, getting the car turned faster and getting back to full throttle sooner. Make the straightaway longer by backing up the corner. That's the key to running and winning races, and it's something that Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart do really well. Harvick picked up very quickly on what Johnson was doing, and there's no better driver to learn from at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The Richard Childress Racing cars have good power and consistency, and Harvick's crew chief, Todd Berrier, communicates as well with his driver as No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus communicates with Johnson so we might see a pretty good battle between the No. 48 and No. 29 cars. Let the rough side drag and may the wisest man wind up ruling the roost when it's all said and done on Sunday night.


Who to Watch

Kevin Harvick: The eventual winner's No. 29 car was very consistent through all four quarters of the all-star race. He was never worse than 4th. When it counted in the end, he was able to get up on the wheel despite pressure from some pretty good race car drivers.

Jimmie Johnson: Extremely good at Lowe's, Johnson taught Harvick in the closing laps of the all-star race.

Johnny Sauter: You've got to look at the guys that looked strong coming from the back. Sauter and crew chief Bootie Barker have a pretty good package. The No. 70 car ran really well.

Matt Kenseth: The No. 17 doesn't usually qualify up front, but he did in the all-star race and showed that he's a race car that can get the job done.

What to Watch

In it to win it at the end: You need to run just hard enough to stay in contact with the leader without overextending your equipment so you can make the right decisions in the final 100 miles. These 600-mile races are won in those final 100 miles by putting your car in clean air at the end.

Two or four tires?: The tough competition lends itself to gambling. Everybody is always trying to get that little extra edge on the guy beside him, and you're going to see some guys gambling throughout the course of the night. They will try to not only go the distance, but also figure out a way to put their competitors a lap down or at least back in the pack.

Junior without Junior: As cousin and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. sits out the first event of a six-race suspension, we're going to find out exactly what Junior is made of. Does he want to leave DEI with people pointing the finger and saying, "Hey, you quit on them"? Or will people say, "If he never wins a championship, he proved to me that he is championship material because he never quit on that team. He gave them 100 percent, just like he was going to drive for them for the rest of his life."? I really expect that he's going to give Earnhardt nation something to crow about and something to be proud of. More importantly, he will walk away knowing that his daddy would be proud of the way he's handled things and done the right thing for himself.

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Coca-Cola 600 could produce mayhem

NASCAR officials have to be holding their collective breath, while the crews and drivers of the Nextel Cup Series are shrugging their shoulders.

Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 is only the longest distance event of the season, and it's at the track most sensitive to changing temperatures. There's a definite cool-down during the race, considering it begins in the daytime and ends at night under the lights.

Ryan Newman is on the pole, his second of 2007, and teammate Kurt Busch is on the outside of the front row. They will lead the field to the green flag shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET. But as has become the norm in the last two years, an air of uncertainty continues to hang over the race.

That's because everyone in the garage knows that Lowe's Motor Speedway is the most temperature-sensitive track in how it translates to a racecar's handling.

"No matter the tires . . . (the Coca-Cola 600) has always been one of those races where the first part of the (event) you have to pretty much survive to get your car to where it needs to be for the end of the race," said Nextel All-Star Challenge winner Kevin Harvick, who qualified 27th.

"It's a moody track and its mood changes often," said two-time LMS winner Bobby Labonte, who starts ninth in his No. 43 Dodge. "You just have to adjust and hope you can hit the setup when it counts."

But the variable that has most shrugging their shoulders is the type of tire used at the track. In the last two years, racing at Lowe's has been all about the tires -- and not in a good way. In 2005, there were a record 22 cautions for 103 laps in the 600 and 15 more in October amid rampant tire failures.

Then with new pavement last year and a harder tire from Goodyear, competitors related it to driving on ice.

Today, many are still trying to figure out the tire/track combination, a challenge evidenced by several mishaps in last weekend's All-Star races.

"The track changes drastically on this tire, relative to temperature, more so than in the past," said Tony Raines, who struggled in both practice and qualifying (37th) on the tire.

"In the afternoon sun, the track is treacherously slick, treacherously loose. You're going to have to trust your experience from the last two weeks as far as putting the car right where it needs to be at a certain time," he added. "It's going to be a fine line."

Tony Stewart, who starts 14th Sunday, fell victim in both 2005 races to tire failures, although the second was from NASCAR mandating a minimum tire pressure while Stewart was dominating the 500-miler. But he remains a vocal opponent of the harder tire.

"When the car loses grip, it loses grip all at once," said Stewart. "It just can't grip the track. So it's making things pretty difficult right now."

The struggle getting the tires to "hook up" to the track was evident when Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann crashed in qualifying Thursday night. It was Waltrip's second wreck in as many weeks there. Both drivers failed to make the race.

"There are two forms of grip. When you take the mechanical grip away with the hard tire we have to run, all you're stuck with is aero," Stewart said. "These older cars are worse on the aero push than anything, so it doesn't make it any better when we have to run on these harder tires."

But while tire issues add to the worries, the track's finicky nature produces the testament to survival in the 600.

"Every 40-50 laps, the track changes," Raines said. "It's a tough one, even for guys who have been there for years -- drivers and crew chiefs."

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BOWYER WRECKS IN PRACTICE

Clint Bowyer crashed on his first practice lap Saturday at LMS and will drive his backup No. 07 Chevrolet in Sunday's race. The good news is that the wreck won't cost Bowyer much with respect to his starting position.

Bowyer, who will take the green flag from the back of the field, was slated to start 41st on owner points. Ford driver Ricky Rudd said Bowyer was merely the victim of a slick track all the Cup drivers were fighting -- and one that could continue to prove problematic during a race starting in sunlight and finishing at night under the lights.

"You've got to have your car loose to run at night, but you can't be that loose and try to run during the day," Rudd said. "You've got to go conservative on the way you drive the racetrack.

"I went out and was running some conservative laps when I first started, and my car was still slipping and was kind of unpredictable. It would be very easy for it to get out from under you, so Clint unfortunately was the guy who got bit."

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mvbski wrote:


COCA-COLA 600 - Odds to Win


Casey Mears     50-1

WOW   yikes

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Mears upsets the field, wins Coca-Cola 600
Mon, May 28, 2007
By Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. -- With his job presumably on the line, Casey Mears stretched his fuel to the finish line Sunday night to win the Coca-Cola 600 for his first Nextel Cup victory.

Mears, struggling through his first season at elite Hendrick Motorsports, ran strong all night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but only took the lead when Tony Stewart ducked onto pit road for a splash of gas.

Mears and his team gambled and pushed their Chevrolet to the finish, running out of gas moments after he took his first checkered flag. It was Hendrick's fifth straight win and the ninth in the past 10 Nextel Cup races, but came from the unlikeliest driver.

And it put a Mears back in Victory Lane on the biggest day in racing for the first time in 16 years. Mears is the nephew of Rick Mears, a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion.

Mears seemed overwhelmed during the celebration, and needed a moment to make sure it was real.

''Actually, let me look at this for a second,'' he said, turning to look at the scoring tower.

J.J. Yeley, like Mears considered one of the drivers in jeopardy of losing their ride to make room for free agent Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished second for the first-top five finish of his career.

Kyle Petty was third - his first top five in 10 years - and quickly praised Mears, who was friends with Petty's late son, Adam.

''I couldn't be more excited for Casey Mears if his name was Adam Petty,'' Petty said. ''I am tickled to death for Casey Mears. I want to tell you something: That kid got what he deserved tonight. I want to say, on the record, a lot of great things are going to come for that kid.''

Reed Sorenson was fourth, and Brian Vickers was fifth in the highest finish this season for Toyota.

In fact, the top five all celebrated their best result of the year.

Stewart, who seemed to have the win in the bag after Jimmie Johnson gave it away in the pits, wound up sixth after figuring he was two laps short on fuel and had to make a late stop.

''I don't know I'm just a driver. I don't calculate fuel,'' he grumbled. It's at least the fourth time this season Stewart lost a win he seemingly had in the bag.

Ricky Rudd was seventh, followed by Earnhardt and Denny Hamlin. Johnson, who came into the event with five wins in the past eight races, wound up 10th after his crew dropped a lug nut during a pit stop with 62 laps remaining.

Johnson had led 82 laps and was out front when he brought the field into the pits. But his Hendrick crew made a rare mistake while changing his tires, lost time scooping up the dropped part, and Johnson came out of the stop in 10th place.

Stewart, meanwhile, had a flawless stop and came out of the pits in first. He led Mears and Earnhardt on the restart with 59 laps to go, and it should have been smooth sailing from there.

But like almost all the other teams, Stewart worried he wouldn't have enough gas to make it to the finish line. He was one of the last drivers to surrender and head down pit road for a splash of gas, and it put Mears out front.

Crew chief Darian Grubb coaxed Mears to take it easy on the gas pedal and make it to the finish line.

''It was an excellent call - he told me to conserve fuel,'' Mears said. ''That was our game plan. We were a third-place car, a fourth-place car at best, and it was the only way to win.

''I can't believe I'm sitting here right now.''

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Re: COCA-COLA 600 News and Notes

RacingOne Rewind: Charlotte
RacingOne.com

A look back at Casey Mears' first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway including news, notes and observations by the RacingOne staff.

Inside Line
Casey Mears won the race to the checkered flag on fuel as he picked up his first career win before coasting to victory lane in his 156th start.

Keys to Victory Lane
Crew Chief Darian Grubb made the call to keep Mears out instead of pitting for a splash of fuel in the closing laps.

Zero to Hero

Kyle Petty, who even had "Zero" on his car, started 36th and fell a lap down, but was able to battle back to capture his first top five in 10 years with a third-place finish.

Hero to Zero
The Penske teammates of Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch started on the front row and went on to lead a combined 117 laps before exiting the race early. Newman finished 39th after losing an engine on lap 172 in the Alltel Dodge, and Busch came home 32nd after crashing the No. 2 on the backstretch on lap 296.

Rookie of the Race
After being involved in a 13-car pile-up, Juan Pablo Montoya was the top performing rookie in 28th after the team made lengthy repairs.

Notables
Brian Vickers put on the best performance of the season for the Toyota camp, leading four times for 76 laps en route to a fifth-place finish. Also, J.J. Yeley scored a career best finish, of second, in his 54th start and Ricky Rudd posted his best finish since returning to NEXTEL Cup competition in seventh.

Coca-Cola 600 Loop Data Leaders

* Average Running Position: Matt Kenseth - 5.6
* Fastest Early In a Run: Matt Kenseth - 174.200 mph
* Fastest Late In a Run: Brian Vickers - 170.008 mph
* Fastest in Turn 1: Matt Kenseth - 173.559 mph
* Fastest in Turn 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 163.366 mph
* Fastest in Turn 3: Matt Kenseth - 167.662 mph
* Fastest in Turn 4: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 161.241 mph
* Fastest Laps Run: Jimmie Johnson - 70
* Fastest on Restarts: Matt Kenseth - 170.746 mph
* Most Passes During Green Flag Conditions: Jimmie Johnson - 96

Pit Stops
* Casey Mears captured his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series win in his 156th start. The win was also his third top 10 at the 1.5-mile track. Detailed Active Driver Wins

* Mears won the 158th race for car owner Rick Hendrick. Detailed Active Car Owner Wins

* Mears became the third driver to win at Lowe's Motor Speedway from the 16th starting spot. He also became the 19th driver overall to win a race from that position.

* The only time Mears led was the final six laps. Lap Summary

* Johnson won the 11th race of the season for Chevrolet. It was also the 607th overall win for the manufacturer. All-Time Manufacturer Wins

* J.J. Yeley's second-place finish was his first top 10 of 2007.

* Kyle Petty (third) scored his first top 10 since Dover in 1997.

* Reed Sorenson captured his first top five of 2007 with a fourth-place finish.

* Brian Vickers' fifth-place finish was his second top 10 in six starts in 2007.

* Tony Stewart scored his first top 10 since 2004 at Lowe's with a sixth-place finish.

* Ricky Rudd's seventh-place finish was his first top 10 since Charlotte in 2005.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. gained one position in the standings to 13th with his eighth-place finish.

* Denny Hamlin's ninth-place finish was his third top 10 in four starts at LMS.

* Jimmie Johnson cut Jeff Gordon's championship lead down to 132 points with his 10th-place finish.

* The 400-lap race saw 29 lead changes among 15 drivers and an average speed of 130.222 mph.

* 13 caution flags were thrown for 62 laps.

* The Coca-Cola 600 lasted 4 hours, 36 minutes, 27 seconds.

Lug Nuts
* How do you like that" The two Hendrick top dogs have troubles yet the team still finds a way to win. Guess Mears doesn't have to worry about being replaced by Junior. Now Kyle Busch on the other hand...

* Yes we have to make one obligatory Jessica Alba comment since she was on hand for Sunday's race. Let's just say she seemed like a very nice person and leave it at that, so we're not confused with the pack of slobbering dogs in the media center upon her visit.

* Some media folks had their credentials pulled for running out to follow the Mears' crew's celebration in the infield before the checkered flag flew. On a related note, most of the members of the media missed that as they were still in the buffet line.

* The crowd sure looked healthy for Sunday's race, which was good news for LMS after last week's less-than-full NEXTEL All-Star Challenge.

* From the NASCAR idot fan files - those ignorant fools cheering after Jeff Gordon's violent crash early Sunday night. Get a life people or better yet, find something else to do with your weekends.

* J.J. Yeley's job was saved for another week.

* Kyle Petty, you looked like you were back behind the wheel of the "Hot Wheels" machine.

Garage Talk
* "I couldn’t be more excited for Casey Mears if his name was Adam Petty. I can tell you that. I’m tickled to death for Casey Mears." -Kyle Petty

* "We definitely had a car that could win the race today, but we ran into one problem after another." -Brian Vickers

* "One of the few buddies I have out here won the race, so I’m pretty pumped up I had a good run and my boy won." -Reed Sorenson

* "If we would have gotten anything worse than an eighth-place finish today I would have really been upset." -J.J. Yeley

RacingOne Rating
On a scale of one to ten cold bottles of the race sponsor's product, we'll give Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 an eight. Some people don't like fuel strategy races, but it's a part of the sport and seeing some fresh faces at the top of the results page is refreshing. Darian Grubb, who proved himself when he stepped in for Chad Knaus last year, might be one of the most promising crew chiefs in the sport and Mears now has a little job security as the Hendrick juggernaut rolled on, even without its heavy hitters in Gordon and Johnson. And guess what? There actually was some side-by-side racing on display during the long day and night. Next it's back to the "Car of Tomorrow" and a trip to "The Monster Mile" at Dover, which will get its first chance to feast on the new NASCAR machine. Watch out for the rear wing big guy!

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