KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – A marathon by definition is a long-distance foot race with an official distance of 26 miles and 385 yards and it is typically run on the road. While the distance of a marathon didn’t become standardized until 1921, it was one of the original modern Olympic sports in 1896. More than 500 marathons take place annually around the world. It’s a sport that can literally accommodate thousands of participants, most of whom engage in a variety of training practices in preparation for the test of endurance.
Endurance is a concept with which competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are well acquainted. Every race run on the Sprint Cup schedule tests the endurance of its drivers, whether they’re racing 300, 400 or 500 miles. That weekly test gets a little more aggressive as the series prepares for its own “marathon” of races with Sunday’s running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The 2015 edition of the Coca-Cola 600 marks the 56th running of NASCAR’s longest race. Aside from the distinction of being the longest race on the schedule, the 600 is also one of the most prestigious events on the circuit due in no small part to its durability implications – it’s a race that tests man and machine.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is among the drivers who have met the challenges that come with competing in the 600, winning the 2010 version of the annual Memorial Day-weekend race. After just missing out on the pole, Busch started second and wasted no time jumping to the lead. He took over the top spot on lap 12 and led the next 40 laps before surrendering the lead briefly for a round of green-flag pit stops. Busch owned the lead 12 different times for a race-high 252 laps, including the final 19. With the win, he became the seventh driver in series history to follow a victory in the Sprint All-Star Race with a win in the 600 a week later.
Sunday’s running of the 600 will be very different than the last one for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, as his focus will lie solely on his efforts at Charlotte and capturing his second win at the home track for most of NASCAR’s teams. This time last year, Busch was deep into his attempt at “The Double” – racing in both the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 600 at Charlotte on the same day.
Busch finished sixth in the 98th Indianapolis 500, becoming the first NASCAR driver to win the Indy 500’s top-finishing rookie honors since Donnie Allison in 1970. Busch’s finish was not only the top result of the 500’s 2014 rookie class , but also tied SHR teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart’s 2001 record for the best finish of the four drivers who have attempted The Double. Unfortunately, Busch’s efforts to become just the second driver to successfully complete the 1,100 miles of racing on the same day came to an early end later that evening at Charlotte as the No. 41 Chevrolet suffered an engine failure 129 laps short of the race distance.
Prior to sweeping the 2010 All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600, Busch’s best finish at Charlotte was a second-place effort during the fall race in 2005. In total, Busch has scored one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 29 career starts at the 1.5-mile track. Much like runners preparing for a marathon, Busch explains that it was a matter of time before he learned to speak the language of the finicky track. Although temperamental Charlotte will always present its challenges, learning to balance the marathon aspect of the 600 is a key component to finding success.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts about the Coke 600 this weekend?
“This weekend’s race is a big one and, being that it’s here in our backyard, it’s almost like a hometown race for everybody. All of the guys who work at the shop and don’t get to go to the track on a weekly basis usually get to come out and see all of their hard work on display. You want to really put the banner up for your team.”
What’s the toughest part about Charlotte?
“The toughest part is always that turn three. If you can get your car to cut properly into turn three, it seems like the racetrack just gives you extra speed. If you struggle in turn three, then that makes for a longer day.”
What do you do to get ready for what is the longest race of the year on the schedule?
“It’s just a marathon mentality. It’s the exact opposite of the All-Star Race. The race starts during the daytime and, even if you’re getting behind early in the race – although you can’t get too far behind – it’s difficult to find a setup that works well at both the beginning and end of the race because of how much the track changes from start to finish. It’s the end of the race, though, when they hand out the points and the check, so you hope your car will race the same way at the end as it did for the All-Star Race, provided you had a good All-Star Race. The mentality is that it’s just pit stop after pit stop with long sequence after long sequence. The All-Star Race is a 100-yard dash. The 600 is a marathon.”
Talk about the 2010 Coca-Cola 600, when you had such a dominant car.
“Well, to start, we just missed out on the pole. That’s one thing that sticks in my mind. You know how racers are – we want to win them all. That race, we were so good in the daytime that I was scared of what was going to happen when the sun went down and the track started to change and how the race would play out. I mean, you never really have a good car at the beginning and have it stay underneath you for the nighttime. It’s just the way you’ve always seen that race play out. But that car was that good. It was what we saw with it in the All-Star Race the week before. It was fast during both of those weekends. So it’s amazing how you can stumble across little things that make all of the difference in the world. Again, I was leading the beginning of the race just pacing myself. The car was so good in the daytime and I literally thought we would end up a lap down at night because cars never stay the same as the race goes on. But it worked out and we got the win in the 600.”
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