There are race weekends, and then there’s the Coca-Cola 600 weekend down in Charlotte. This race has long been known as a test of endurance, both for equipment, team and driver. The longest race on average each year goes to the 500-mile limit, but this race is the most unique in that often, the extra 100 miles makes a big difference.
When the green flag waves, it’s 6:00 in the evening, and the skies are still bright with the sun shining down, but as the laps click off the ticker, the race conditions continue to change. The sun begins to set, and the shadows get longer. Soon, the lights turn on and twilight sets in, with some fans looking for that first star in the sky in order to make a wish.
Finally, when the checkered flag falls, the skies are black, stars are out, and it’s the perfect conditions to see fireworks light up the skies.
I’ve personally been to this race twice, and it’s one that just stands out not because of the conditions the drivers face when they hit the track, but just the prelude to the green flag gets everyone extremely energetic. The Memorial Day weekend race is the nightcap to a day full of racing. It began with the Grand Prix of Monaco for F1, then the infamous Indianapolis 500, with NASCAR ending the day of racing with their 600-mile marathon.
At both Indy and Charlotte, Memorial Day services are recognized, with troops lining the track in front of several thousand fans, honoring them for their services, and their fallen brothers and sisters who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
This year’s race at Charlotte saw a new world record for the largest American Flag ever seen or produced. During pre-race ceremonies, after the singing of God Bless America, a 21-gun salute, and the playing of Taps, which still to this day always brings me to tears, fans and soldiers alike unveiled a 65-foot wide, 123-foot long American flag. When it was pulled to its full length at the track, the flag ran the width of the infield grass and went from the start/finish line all the way to the end of pit road. It was a fitting way to start off the Memorial Day weekend festivities.
Many cars ran special patriotic paint schemes, such as Kyle Busch in his red, white and blue M&Ms Toyota, and Jimmie Johnson in his patriotic Lowe’s Chevrolet. Teams that ran their standard paint scheme had more subtle cues to honor the colors of the country, most notably the patriotic stars on the spoilers, side skirts and shark fins.
It’s an emotional race for the Armed Forces, and emotional for everyone that is honoring them on such a big weekend for them. I know from my two on-sight experiences, it has become my favorite weekend in NASCAR.
For anyone wanting to go to a NASCAR event, this is one you have to put on your bucket list. It’s a long drive, just about 8 hours from central Pennsylvania to the track, but it is well worth the gas and hotel.
RESULTS: 1-Kahne 2-Hamlin 3-Kyle Busch 4-Biffle 5-Keselowski 6-Earnhardt Jr. 7-Gordon 8-Harvick 9-Edwards 10-Kenseth
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Johnson 14-Newman 25-Stewart 30-Patrick
CAUTIONS: 5 for 23 laps. Lap 113-117 (Debris-BS), 135-138 (Debris-T1), 171-174 (#93 Accident-T4), 179-182 (Debris-T3), 320-325 (Debris-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 31 among 11 drivers. Almirola POLE, Ambrose 1-2, Almirola 3-5, Ambrose 6-8, Biffle 9-14, Ambrose 15-22, Biffle 23-113, Ambrose 114-120, Kyle busch 121-124, Biffle 125-134, Gordon 135-138, Kyle Busch 139-171, Ragan 172, Kyle Busch 173-190, Biffle 191-219, Kahne 220-221, Biffle 222, Cassill 223, Biffle 224-280, Kahne 281-307, Hamlin 308, Biffle 309-315, Kahne 316, Biffle 317, Kahne 318, Biffle 319-320, Hamlin 321-332, Kahne 333-353, Keselowski 354, Harvick 355, Gordon 356, Kahne 357-400.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 51 Mins, 14 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 155.687 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 4.295 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS: 1. Biffle, 453 points; 2. Kenseth, -10; 3. Hamlin, -16; 4. Earnhardt Jr, -18; 5. Johnson, -48; 6. Truex Jr, -49; 7. Harvick, -55; 8. Kyle Busch, -62; 9. Stewart, -65; 10. Edwards, -81; 11. Keselowski, -85; 12. Bowyer, -87