Pressure, prestige, mistakes mark Daytona 500’s glory and consequences

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski compares racing in the Daytona 500 with attending your first day of school and taking a final exam.

On the same day.

“The biggest race is also the first race of the season,” the 2012 Cup champion said during Daytona 500 Media Day. “With it comes all the pressure and opportunity that comes with that to really set the stage for your season but also all the new faces and first-day jitters you have to work out with your team.

“There also is a lot of unpredictability and a lot of things that can go wrong. You make one mistake in this race, especially in those late stages and you find yourself out of it.”

That happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015 when he made a mistake on a restart with 20 laps to go that essentially cost him a shot at back-to-back victories in the Great American Race.

Joey Logano took advantage, executing a series of perfect maneuvers in his No. 22 Ford over the final 20 laps and holding off a squadron of challengers without teammate Keselowski (whose engine expired earlier).

“It’s exhausting because there’s a lot going on,” Logano said. “If you’re trying to race up front the whole time, it’s an exhausting race.  If you’re running around in the back, which I don’t think anyone is going to do now with the new format, but there’s a lot going through your mind.

“You have to try to see what’s going on a lap ahead all the time, and that’s really hard to put all of that together because to be able to do that you have to have great information from behind and what your spotter sees, and you have to have that communication really well, and then you have to see runs forming, and you have to know who you’re racing against and what type of moves they’re prone to making.  You have to process all of that information before you make that split-second move when that opportunity comes up to make that big pass.”

Jimmie Johnson said it doesn’t always come down to just one mistake and added that a rules tweak (a smaller restrictor plate) will have an impact this year.

“It’s much more difficult to pass for the lead, so the pit stop or two prior to the end of the race and how you come off of pit road and how you line up on the ensuing restarts has more to do with it,” he said. “So we might be able to now kind of find a moment in time like, ‘Man, messed up on pit road, I got a bad restart.’ So it’s starting to develop now, and spending time watching last year’s 500, once you get the lead, it’s hard to lose it. It has to be the perfect storm behind you to create the opportunity to pass.”

Keselowski, who crashed Sunday with defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin while batting for the lead on the last lap of The Clash, believes the chips are ready to fall his way.

“A lot of things that you can’t control with respect to getting your car back up front, a lot of things you can’t control with getting cars to work with you at the right time,” he said. “There’s a lot of timing involved in these races. I feel like in some ways plate racing is almost like playing cards. You stack the odds and know you haven’t gotten a card in a long time. We haven’t caught any breaks at Daytona as a team in a long time.

“I know we have the car that can win this race this year. We have the speed. I feel I have the knowledge and intuition of the right moves to make. The last few years, we haven’t caught any breaks. And that pendulum is going to swing and we’re going to catch some good breaks. I believe that in my heart, and I believe this is the year to do it.”

NASCAR America: NASCAR’s stars hit the track for the ‘Little 600’ (video)

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Like more than three dozen of his NASCAR Cup counterparts, Joey Logano is gearing up for the longest race of the year, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

To warm up, Logano, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr. and other NASCAR drivers headed to the GoPro Motorplex in North Carolina for the “Little 600.”

Check out how they fared in the above video that was on Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America.

 

Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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CONCORD, N.C. — Kevin Harvick will start on the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, marking the second consecutive race at Charlotte Motor Speedway he has led the field to the green flag.

Harvick, a two-time Coke 600 winner, earned the top starting spot Thursday night with a lap of 193.424 mph in his Ford. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch, who won last weekend’s All-Star Race.

Chase Elliott starts third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Erik Jones.

Points leader Kyle Larson will start 39th in the 40-car field after not making a qualifying attempt. He hit the wall in practice and then his team couldn’t get through qualifying inspection until one minute remained in the opening round of the session. The team was unable to get Larson out of the garage in time to make an attempt.

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Slugger Labbe: How do crew chiefs prepare for grueling Coca-Cola 600? (video)

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Veteran crew chief Slugger Labbe stopped by the NASCAR America studio in Charlotte on Thursday.

Labbe gave his perspective on how NASCAR Cup crew chiefs will prepare for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. While the race length will be the same as it has been for decades, one significant change will have crew chiefs developing strategy that they’ve never had to deal with in the 600, namely, four different race stages.

Labbe also gave his take on the positives and negatives of the Laser Inspection Station for both pre- and post-race inspections.

Check out the above video.

NASCAR: Remembering Martin Truex Jr.’s dominating 2016 Coca-Cola 600 win

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In one of the most dominating performances in NASCAR history, Martin Truex Jr. turned last year’s Coca-Cola 600 into a runaway one-man show, leading the field for 392 of 400 laps.

Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America took a look back at Truex’s record-setting win.

Check out the video above.