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So will the Charlotte 600 come down to a gas mileage finish again, or a GWC two-lap restart sprint? And how about those Richard Petty guys: 1-2 for the green!

So will the Charlotte 600 come down to a gas mileage finish again, or a GWC two-lap restart sprint? And how about those Richard Petty guys: 1-2 for the green!

Jack Roush's 1-2 punch: Greg Biffle (L) and Matt Kenseth (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   As stout as Jimmie Johnson was here in the All-Star money laps, wonder why anyone else is even showing up for Sunday night's Coke 600.

   But Team Ford has reloaded for this rematch with Team Chevy in the sport's longest race, and Richard Petty's duo, Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, took the front row Thursday night for the 600.

   But this four-hour race can be quite unpredictable.
   Daytona winner Matt Kenseth was on Johnson's outside on the front row for the key final restart of the All-Star, and Johnson blew him away, winning comfortably.
   Has Kenseth reviewed the videos and come up with a different game plan, if the 600 winds up coming down to a similar final restart?
   Or maybe team owner Jack Roush has worked on the gas mileage part of the 600 game plan. Last year's 600, remember, came down to half a dozen leaders running out of gas in the closing miles.
    "First of all, I hope it doesn't come down to either one of those," Kenseth says with a laugh. "I hope it comes down to a longer run and the fastest car wins.  
     "The longer run is what I hope for -- and then we can just race for it without any of that stuff….
    "But I say that unless I'm way far behind, and then I'd want a restart and I'm on the bottom."
    Is the outside line on restarts really at such a significant disadvantage as Johnson made it seem in the All-Star?
     What, next time, might Kenseth do differently, to beat Johnson, or to snooker him?
     "I don't really know what I'd do different," Kenseth says.  "The track was clean enough.  Jimmie (who squeezed Kenseth high at the green) didn't do anything wrong.  I wasn't hitting the wall, so I had enough room.  
    "I don't know what I'd do different.  

   Aric Almirola, an overnight sensation years in the making. On the pole for the 600, his first Sprint Cup pole (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   But Jimmie Johnson is tough to beat at Charlotte (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

      "I (just) had a hard time getting the car rolling in a straight line," Kenseth said.  "We even did on our pit stop Friday night -- leaving pit road without the speed limit leading.
    "So it's something we've been working on, and a little more for this week.  
     "It seemed -- in re-watching that race -- like all the guys that started on the outside row had a hard time getting rolling for some reason.  
     "Most tracks you don't really have that. But I noticed that last fall here too.  
      "It's almost like a drag race, where you want to pick your line just because of the forward traction.
       "Obviously it (Kenseth's restart) didn't look very good, and you'd think you'd be able to do better than that. But when I got done….
     "I mean I knew when he was going, and I anticipated it pretty good.  I thought I got in the gas even a little bit before he did. I just couldn't get any traction."
      Perhaps a point to keep in mind in all this is that teams off-set their bodies on the chassis, and other tricks, to go faster through the corners, but at the expense of struggling some on the straights.
     Other teams might do less of that and thus look better on the straights.

  Talk about Joe Btfsplk: Jeff Gordon is still trying to get his season jump-started (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  


   Marcos Ambrose, a 'teammate' of Kenseth's, running for Richard Petty Motorsports, seemed to have no problem on the restarts or on the straights. In fact Ambrose was one of the night's most aggressive drivers.
     "I think we're probably talking about two different things," Kenseth said. "We're mainly talking the outside line -- where the restart zone is.
     "If we (Kenseth and Johnson) had been side-by-side going into turn one, I probably would rather have the top than the bottom, because that guy (on the inside) doesn't have as much air (on his rear spoiler) on the bottom."
    And Kenseth said restarting from the front row is different from restarting back in the pack.
    "If you're three or four rows back, I'd rather be on the top, in an aggressive race like that. Everybody slows each other up for the corner, and you can get way around three-wide, because there are a lot of lanes out there."

   Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought he had last spring's Coke 600 in the bag. But he ran out of gas the last lap (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Teammate Greg Biffle agrees that the inside lane was much faster in the All-Star.
   "It's weird why one lane will be faster than the other," Biffle says. "And the higher the speeds get, later at night, the harder it is to make the upper lane work, because it is a longer distance around.  
    "If the bottom is super-fast, it's hard to make up time on that second groove.  
     "But when it's hot and sunny, you can go up the race track and make up some time, because you've got to slow down a little bit for the bottom groove because the car is sliding.
     "But if that bottom groove has a ton of grip, then going up the race track just makes it further around and doesn't give you anymore speed."

    Biffle and Kenseth are doing just fine so far this season, Kenseth just two points behind tour leader Biffle in the Sprint Cup standings 11 races in.
   At the other end of the spectrum is Jeff  Gordon….who is just one of several drivers who are trying to get on track this season, and it's nearly June.
   Gordon has had strong cars most of the season, though not in last weekend's All-Star race for some reason (particularly odd when teammate Jimmie Johnson won going away).
   However Gordon has had terrible luck.
   "What are you going to do, other than just keep your head up and work hard and go to the next race and try to change it," Gordon says.
   "We've got too good a team, and too good race cars, to try to get down on the way things have been going.
    "It's challenging, because every one of those races when you get out of the car and see the dejection on the team's face…
    "You know what you're going through…and they feel it from you as well.
    "To me the All-Star race was way tougher on us than Darlington. At the All-Star race we just didn't perform well enough. That's way tougher to go through than this having bad luck, because we've been running really good this year.
    "If we don't get the results, it is going to really be tough to get out of this hole."
    If Gordon is to make the playoffs, though the playoffs don't come till September, he may have to 'win' his way in, because he's mired 24th in the standings.
    "The timing gets tougher and tougher the more races go by that we don't get the results -- the harder and harder that mountain is to climb," Gordon says.
    "But we're relying on our team, and keeping the communication open, and staying positive with all the guys, and just say 'Hey, this is our week.'
    "You can only do that for so long, but we're still doing it."

    Denny Hamlin, whose hot-and-cold streaks have become almost perplexing, is like Gordon coming into the 600 after a lackluster performance last weekend: "We didn't run that well in the All-Star race.  It's time for us to revamp our setup.  We come here this week with
nothing from the past weekend."


    Martin Truex Jr. -- one of Michael Waltrip's hottest drivers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


your article sucked

How bout a little bit about Aric? I am surprised you even mentioned the pole....

How will the Charlotte race end?

GWC. None of the races are worth watching until the last twenty laps. And if you're at home, the TV wouldn't show you the competition behind the lead car even if it was six abreast.

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