Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – Kyle Busch has shown consistent strength on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways this year, and that’s a source of confidence entering NASCAR’s Memorial Day weekend marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch won the 2018 Coca-Cola 600 from the pole, and he’ll try for a repeat performance in the 63rd running of the event on Sunday evening (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Though Busch claimed his only victory of the season in the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the strength of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team has manifested itself on the 1.5-mile tracks.
He finished fourth at Las Vegas after leading 49 laps and third at Kansas Speedway in the most recent NASCAR Cup Series points event. In the NASCAR All-Star Race last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch started from the pole and led the first 47 laps before being eliminated in a freak accident.
“The mile-and-a-half stuff has kind of been our bread and butter a little bit this year, I guess you’d say,” said Busch, whose Toyota is sporting a special red, white and blue M&Ms paint scheme this week. “You know, at (two-mile) California we were OK (14th).
“I thought we were quick, but we got behind early, but then Vegas and Kansas were really good. We were fast there. So being another mile-and-a-half here, hopefully that bodes well.”
Martin Truex Jr., Busch’s teammate at JGR, is seeking his fourth win at Charlotte. His first was the stuff of legends. In the 2016 Coca-Cola 600, Truex led 392 of 400 laps before taking the checkered flag.
But Truex is winless so far this season, with two top-five results in 13 races.
JGR’s Denny Hamlin has a different agenda. A victory on Sunday would complete the trifecta of NASCAR’s Crown Jewel races—the Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Daytona 500.
Kevin Harvick is the only active driver who has wins in all three of those marquee races. Harvick also is tied with Truex for most Charlotte victories among active drivers with three. But Harvick hasn’t won a Cup race since 2020, and his drought reached 56 events two weeks ago at Kansas.
As much as Harvick would like to break the winless streak at Charlotte, he’s also keenly aware of the significance of the weekend.
“There isn’t any sport that honors the military any better than NASCAR,” Harvick said. “I know a lot of sports do a lot of things for our military, but when you roll into this particular weekend with the Coke 600 and you’re a part of the celebration and remembrance for all the things that have happened with our military, to see the support that NASCAR and everybody in our garage gives the military, especially on this particular weekend, is something that gives you goosebumps.”
Kyle Larson is the defending winner of the race. With a victory on Sunday, he would become the seventh driver to triumph in back-to-back Coke 600s, joining Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson holds the record with three straight victories in NASCAR’s longest race (2003-2005).
Ty Gibbs will have to break through JR Motorsports dominance this week
Ty Gibbs hasn’t won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race since April 2 at Richmond—a span of five races without a victory.
That may not seem like a significant streak until you consider that, in 30 starts in the series, Gibbs has accumulated seven victories, three so far this season. The “drought” could end this weekend in Saturday’s Alsco Uniforms 300 (1 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
A victory in the 200-lap race would make Gibbs the sixth driver to win consecutive Xfinity Series races at Charlotte. The driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota claimed his first oval victory in the series and second overall in last year’s spring race at the track.
Gibbs, however, faces formidable opposition in the form of JR Motorsports, which collectively set a series record last Saturday at Texas by collecting its eighth straight stage win.
Before NASCAR Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick won the Texas race, three different JRM drivers—Noah Gragson, Josh Berry and Justin Allgaier—had scored victories in three straight races.
“The momentum has been on our side as of late,” Allgaier said, “and it would be great to keep that going and come away with another solid day on Saturday—especially with it being Memorial Day weekend and the fact that we have the Adopt-a-Soldier Platoon on board our No. 7 Chevrolet.
“It would definitely mean a lot to give those guys a good run and be in contention for the win.”
Cup Stars and a newcomer add luster to NASCAR Truck Series field
Add team owner and two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch to any NASCAR Camping World Truck Series field, and you have an instant prohibitive favorite.
In 163 starts in the series, Busch has recorded 61 victories—a remarkable winning percentage of 37.4. So, it’s only natural that Busch will be the driver to beat in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Not that Busch is the only double-duty competitor in the field. Ross Chastain, a three-time career winner in the Truck Series, is making his fourth start of the season in the No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.
Chastain is enjoying a breakout season in the NASCAR Cup Series, having posted two victories and seven top-five results in 13 races.
“The intermediate package we have at Niece Motorsports has shown a lot of speed, and it’s only a matter of improving the end result,” Chastain said. “I know the hard-working people at Niece Motorsports will have a fast Chevrolet Silverado prepared for us.”
Mexico’s Max Gutierrez will attempt to make his series debut in the No. 37 AM Racing Chevrolet. If he’s successful, Gutierrez will become the 66th driver from a country outside the United States to compete in the series.
He would also be the ninth different driver from Mexico to race a NASCAR Truck, joining Daniel Suárez (Monterrey), Carlos Contreras (Mexico City), German Quiroga (Mexico City), Michel Jourdain (Mexico City), Enrique Contreras III (Mexico City), Jose Luis Ramirez (Mexico City), Ruben Pardo (Mexico City) and Juan Manuel Gonzalez (Mexico City).