Cup Series moves from Coke 600 marathon to sprint

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After enduring NASCAR’s longest race in terms of mileage, a grueling 607.5 miles in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, tonight’s race is so much shorter that drivers may barely break a sweat.

Tonight’s race will have a definite short track feel of sorts: the length is just 310 miles/500 kilometers.

Among the unique aspects about tonight’s race is the top 20 finishers in the 600 will start tonight’s race in inverted order.

That means 600 winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Chase Elliott will start tonight’s race from the 20th and 19th positions respectively.

Meanwhile, William Byron and teammate Alex Bowman — who finished 20th and 19th respectively in the 600 — will start tonight from the first two positions.

As for the back half of the field, drivers who finished 21-40 in the 600 will start tonight’s race from those same positions.

Stage 1 will end on Lap 55, while Stage 2 ends on Lap 115.

As a result, really the only true similarity between the 600 and tonight is the track upon which the cars will race upon.

Everything is completely different, which will lend itself to more drama and more aggressive race strategy, particularly with more gambling on pit road.

“It’s going to be tough with the invert,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished sixth in the 600 and will start 15th tonight. “I think that’s going to be a big deal after everybody gets a chance to work on their cars and the track just seemed like it was really one groove and really, really difficult to pass during the 600.

“You give everybody two or three days to work on their cars and everybody is going to be closer yet. The invert is going to be a challenge in the shorter race for sure. We’ll see what we can do with it and do our best.”

Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Erik Jones, finished 11th in the 600 and will start 10th tonight.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to Charlotte for race two,” Jones said. “The 600 was a good race for us most of the night. We were pretty strong and ran up front.

“Hopefully we make some good changes for Wednesday night. It’s a short race, so we aren’t really going to have an opportunity to work on the car as the night goes. We’re going to have what we have when we start and as the race gets going. I’m looking forward to it.”

Teammate Kyle Busch said he and his team “were lucky to steal a fourth-place finish (in the 600) … and we’ll have to go back to work and figure out some things to make our stuff better for when we come back on Wednesday (starts 17th) and get back after it.”

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson looks to rebound from being disqualified following the 600 for failing post-race inspection. He’ll start tonight where he finished Sunday – last in the 40-car field – but believes good fortune is on the horizon.

“We’re knocking on the door and we’ll get there,” Johnson said.

Another driver who had problems and penalties of another sort in and after the 600 but hopes for a similar rebound as Johnson tonight is Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota Camry had a big chunk of tungsten ballast fall out from under his car during parade laps for the 600.

Hamlin’s crew had to replace the lost ballast, costing him an eight-lap delay before he could get his race started, finished 29th and eventually saw NASCAR hand down four-race suspensions for several team members, including crew chief Chris Gabehart.

“Our Toyota was actually pretty fast on Sunday,” Hamlin said, trying to look on the bright side. “We tried various adjustments throughout the night and learned how the car reacts in traffic and in various lines around the track.

“So, we have a good baseline to start with for Wednesday.”

Now it’s just a matter of essentially going from work boots to gym shoes when it comes to running tonight’s shorter length.

“Obviously, you’ve got a shorter distance to accomplish what you need to,” Hamlin said. “Tire and fuel mileage strategy will be different, and we’ll have shorter stages to work within.

“This one will be more of a sprint than a marathon.”

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