The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday evening. NASCAR had a unique schedule this week. There was a practice Thursday followed by qualifying on Thursday evening. The MENCS took the day off on Friday and returned to the track Saturday morning. The first practice was rained out. The teams only had 50 minutes to dial in the cars for the race Sunday evening.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Charlotte…
NASCAR confirmed that they will put the traction compound on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th groove from the bottom and they used the Tire Dragon as well to help improve the race at the top of the track. One Crew Chief said that will allow the track to run more like Michigan… Hello Kyle Larson!
The teams will run the same tires compound that they used in the All-Star Race. The teams have 3 sets of tires for the 2 practice sessions and 1 set for qualifying. All of the cars will start the race on new tires this week.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has been good but not great on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has an average finishing position of 16.8 and he has yet to finish inside the top 10. Elliott went out and ran 19th on his first run. He told his spotter he needed to know what lanes the leaders were running. He came in to check the video. Elliott went back out and changed his lane and jumped to 9th on the speed chart.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has 8 wins, 20 finishes in the top 10 and 1,930 laps led at Charlotte. He is not the same driver right now. Johnson has an average finishing position of 23.2 and has not led a lap yet on the 1.5-mile tracks. The No. 48 team was working on their long-run speed in final practice. Johnson said the car was getting onto the splitter in 3 and 4.
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been much better on the short tracks than he has been on the 1.5-mile tracks. His average finishing position in the 4 races on the 1.5-mile tracks is 20.5 with no laps led. Bowman was fighting a tight racecar. They brought him in for some changes and he said, “We are going in the right direction but I still need some more.”
William Byron: Byron will be competing in his first race in the MENCS at Charlotte and his first race of 600 miles. Byron competed in 2 Xfinity Series races at Charlotte and finished 14th and 16th. He will have a tough time finishing his first MENCS race at Charlotte in the top 10 Sunday. Crew Chief Darian Grubb used strategy to win 2 Coca-Cola 600 (one with Casey Mears in 2017 and the other with Carl Edwards in 2015). They plan to use strategy Sunday to get Byron his first win in the MENCS this week. Byron said he had a hard time getting back to the throttle on exit.
Kyle Larson: Larson has been one of the best drivers on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 3rd at Las Vegas, 4th at Kansas and was running in the top 5 at Texas when he spun out. Larson told PRN that he really expects the top of the race track to come in early in the race Sunday. He expects the track to race like Michigan where he is almost unbeatable. Larson was a little tight in practice and they made some adjustments to free him up. Larson went to No. 2 on the speed chart.
Jamie McMurray: Charlotte is one of the best tracks for McMurray. He finished 5th and led 4 laps in the last race at Charlotte. McMurray is hard to trust this season. His average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 22.2, but he did finish 3rd at Texas.
Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 car is the best choice in the field this week and it is not even close. Harvick has finished 1st, 1st, 1st and 2nd in the 4 races on the 1.5-mile tracks He has also led 561 laps. He will be driving the car he won the Texas race with this week. Harvick did not have much time to practice because they had a 30-minute penalty for failing pre-qualifying inspection. Good thing the team has some good notes to use for the race. Harvick made a 18 lap run to begin practice and said, “The balance feels pretty good.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has had fast cars at each of the 1.5-mile tracks. The problem is that Bowyer has had a hard time finishing as well as he has run. His average running position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 7.4 but his average finishing position is 11.2. Bowyer was fighting a tight racecar in qualifying. He said the splitter was hitting the track. Bowyer will start 28th Sunday night. Bowyer made a 20 lap run in final practice and said, “It is a lot better than it was in qualifying.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has the 2nd-best driver rating (behind Kevin Harvick) on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He is also really good at Charlotte. Busch has finished 6 of his last 7 races at Charlotte in the top 10. Busch really liked the balance of his car. They ended practice with a 20 lap run and Busch said, “It starts off free and works it way in. Not too bad.”
Aric Almirola:The Stewart-Haas Racing Fords have had a lot of speed this season and that has made Almirola a good pick on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 10th at Las Vegas and 9th at Charlotte. Almirola made a long run and said, “The car is too tight on landing.” They were working to free him up.
Brad Keselowski: Charlotte ranks as the 19th-best track for Keselowski, but he does have a win here in 2013. Keselowsi has been good but not great on the 1.5-mile tracks. His average finishing position is 13.8 and Keselowski has only led 38 laps.
Joey Logano: Logano has been a model of consistency this year. He has finished all of the races on the 1.5-mile tracks in the top 7 and has led at least 1 lap in all of them. Logano made many long runs in final practice and worked on his pit road speed. He said his car is pretty good.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney only has 1 finish in the top 10 in his 6 races at Charlotte. The good news is t came in the October race last year (He finished 8th). Blaney has run well on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and I see no reason why he cannot run in the top 10 Sunday. Blaney was consistently in the top 5 in final practice. He looks fast once again this week.
Paul Menard: Menard has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 9th at Las Vegas and 6th at Kansas, but finished 17th at Atlanta and 30th at Texas.
Kyle Busch: Charlotte is the only track Busch has not won at. He said before the season that his goal this year was to win at Charlotte so Joe Gibbs Racing gave him the best car they have. It is a brand new car but the team said it tested the best in the wind-tunnel.
Erik Jones: Jones only has 2 career races at Charlotte in the MENCS. He finished 7th and 17th. Jones has finished all 4 races on the 1.5-mile tracks in the top 11 this season. Jones made a long run and said, “We made the bumps a lot better and it is perfect through the corner. I need a little help on entry but I get to the throttle really well on exit.”
Denny Hamlin: Charlotte has been the best 1.5-mile track for Hamlin. He has finished 4 of his last 5 races at the track in the top 5. Hamlin is also coming off a top-5 finish at Kansas. The No. 11 car was too tight in practice and they kept freeing up the car. At the end of practice Hamlin liked the car. He said, “We are close.” Hamlin was 5th fastest on the speed chart at the time.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has not had any luck on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average running position is 14.2 but his average finishing position is 24.5. Suarez finished both races at Charlotte last year in the top 11 so there is a chance he runs well Sunday night. Suarez told PRN that he really learned a lot about the tires and running through the traction compound.
Martin Truex Jr.: Charlotte is one of the best tracks for Truex. He led 392 of the 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2016. He also finished both races in the top 3 and led 324 laps last year. Truex needs some better luck this year. He will be driving a brand new car this week. The No. 78 tam really liked the way their car ran on the long runs. Cole Pearn was setting the car up for a night race and not too worried about their lap times in final practice.
Ryan Newman: Newman has had some success in the Coca-Cola 600 but he will be a hard driver to trust this week. Newman has only finished 1 of the 4 races on the 1.5-mile tracks inside the top 20. Newman qualified 6th for the race Sunday. He has qualified inside the top 10 in two races this season. He started 2nd at Atlanta and finished 22nd. Newman started 9th at Fontana and finished 21st. He probably will not stay up front long in the Coca-Cola 600. They changed the shocks on Newman’s car and he said, “Put it back..that was horrible.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 last year but it was not because he had the fastest car. The No. 3 team used fuel strategy to gain track position. They will likely need to do the same this season. Dillon has a 17.5 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Dillon was on the splitter in 3 and 4, but said the balance was pretty good. The car was getting loose on the long runs.
Ty Dillon: There is not a lot to say about Dillon this season. He usually finishes between 25th and 30th and that is what we should expect from him Sunday night.
Kasey Kahne: Charlotte is the best track for Kahne. He has 4 wins at the track and 3 of them came in the Coca-Cola 600. Kahne has been a good sleeper pick in DFS and Salary cap games. His average starting position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 25.2 but his average finishing position is 19.5. Kahne liked his car. Has said is starts out free and tightens up as the tire pressures come up. He liked how the car could run the top and bottom equally well. He made one final run and said, “I really cannot think of anything I need. It is really good.” Kahne went to 4th fastest on the board.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger looked terrific in the All-Star Race. The team will have to work hard to get speed in the aerodynamics package used Sunday night. He is showing signs of improvement though. Allmendinger qualified 18th and finished 16th at Kansas. Allmendinger said the car was a little tight but the backend gets into the track really well. They made some adjustments and sent Allmendinger back out. He said, “It rotates really good in the center. This may be the best we have been all year.”
Chris Buescher: Buescher has been at his best at the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 15th at Las Vegas, 15th at Texas and was running in the top 15 at Kansas when he was spun out. Buescher finished 18th and 20th in his 2 races at Charlotte last year. Buescher will start 18th and it is hard to imagine him moving up more than 2 or 3 spots in the race Sunday. His good qualifying effort will hurt his value in DFS Contests this week. He told his team, “We have the back tires into the track good but I need to keep the front tires from sliding through the turn.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace Jr. has never competed in a 600-mile race. He will be hard to trust this week. Wallace has an average finishing position of 21st on the 1.5-mile tracks. Bubba made a long run and said, “It is too tight.” They worked on it and sent him back out. Bubba said, “Still too tight. It sucks.” Drew Blickensderfer said, “Hey man, we are working on it.”
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth looked horrible at Kansas but I expect him to be a little better this week since he now knows what he has in the No. 6 car (or what he does not have). Kenseth told the team that the biggest problem with the car was with the front splitter. The splitter was hitting the track and causing the car to be undrivable. The team worked hard to raise the car up and it improved the drivability of the car. Kenseth will start 17th Sunday. He ran outside the top 30 in practice.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. has been a decent pick on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has finished 3 of the 4 races inside the top 20 and has a 16.5 average finishing position.
David Ragan: Ragan is one of the best cheap drivers in the field this week. The No. 38 car has picked up some speed since they started to use the Roush Fenway Racing chassis and Roush Yates engines. Ragan finished 13th at Kansas and he could sneak inside the top 20 Sunday night. Ragan says the car was loose on center off, but not too bad. He liked the way the car got over the bumps.
Michael McDowell: McDowell has not been as good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season as he was in 2017. His average starting position is 23.8 and his average finishing position is 23.8. Guess what… His average running position is 23.8 too. So he should finish 23rd Sunday. McDowell was fighting a loose racecar in practice. He said, “It feels like I am spinning out on the exit of the corner.” They made some adjustments and McDowell said, “It is still a little tight but do not go crazy with it. We are close.”
Matt Dibenedetto: Dibendetto gets more out of his car then most of the drivers in the field. The problem is that the car does not have a lot of speed to begin with. Dibendetto said, “It is really tight on entry and really loose on exit. The balance in way off.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer,Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger
Click here for Coca-Cola 600 Starting Lineup
Click here for Thursday Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 15-Lap Average Speeds
- Erik Jones 29.40
- Kyle Larson 29.62
- Martin Truex Jr. 29.66
- Kevin Harvick 29.67
- Joey Logano 29.72
- Kyle Busch 29.74
- Aric Almirola 29.78
- Kurt Busch 29.79
- Jamie McMurray 29.89
- Daniel Suarez 29.90
- Denny Hamlin 29.91
- Ryan Blaney 29.93
- Clint Bowyer 29.97
- Brad Keselowski 30.02
- Chase Elliott 30.02
- William Byron 30.03
- Kasey Kahne 30.17
- Jimmie Johnson 30.22
- Paul Menard 30.27
- Rickie Stenhouse Jr. 30.31
- Ryan Newman 30.33
- Austin Dillon 30.35
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