Six-Time and The Outlaw Prepare for NASCAR's Toughest Test
SIX-TIME READY FOR 600: Charlotte Motor Speedway's Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the NASCAR schedule and is billed as the Ultimate Test of Man and Machine. According to six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, you can also add "and his mind" to that billing.
What used to be a race of attrition has become a race of opportunity - if you're up to the task, Johnson said.
"Maybe toward the start of my career we were worried about equipment, but those all seem to be distant memories now, and you can really run every lap like it's the last," Johnson said. "You've got a lot of opportunities to work on your car; that's what I'll tell myself all night long. If things don't go our way, we're caught in the pits when a caution comes out, something doesn't work in our favor, you've got 100 more miles to sort things out. A 500-mile race is already long, and now you've got 100 more miles to work on it. You've just got to keep your head in the game and focus on being in the game longer."
And with three Coca-Cola 600 wins, Johnson clearly has the ability to do that. No other active driver has more, although his mentor, teammate and co-owner Jeff Gordon has as many, as does Kasey Kahne. (Darrell Waltrip leads the all-time stats with five Coca-Cola 600 titles).
"The big thing you need to stay aware of is the track changing; that's the biggest issue that we'll deal with, starting late in the day and going into the night," Johnson said. "Drivers' fitness and hydration is kind of a player in there as well. You might see a little bit of fatigue at the end, and I feel like I've got that base covered if it does come down to that."
THE OUTLAW NO MORE?: Kurt Busch didn't set out to run "The Double" in order to change his image. It's just a strange and unanticipated consequence of his attempt to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday.
Long reviled as a hot-tempered, short-fused driver, Busch has become a hot commodity in the NASCAR garage these days.
"Just like walking through the garage today, it takes 20 minutes for me to sign in - and it's not because of fans and autographs, it's the other crew chiefs and the other drivers asking what are the differences and wanting to know about the experience," Busch said. "It is so exciting to talk about it, it is just so hard to put it all into words."
For a driver who seems to revel in the boos from fans and enjoys stirring up controversy, it's a strange position to be in.
"I can't wait to watch and pull for him," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center. "He's representing the entire sport. He's a got a lot of drivers, crew - the whole infield - pulling for him to do well."
Ditto for Jimmie Johnson. And Jamie McMurray. And so many others.
And to Busch, that's kind of the point.
"I'm doing this for a lot of different reasons, but at the end of the day, I think motorsports could use the shot in the arm," Busch said.
LiftMaster HONORS FALLEN FIREFIGHTER: As part of LiftMaster Pole Day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR Sprint All-Star winner Jamie McMurray and LiftMaster are honoring Capt. Jeffrey Bowen through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
The driver's side door will carry Bowen's name for the Coca-Cola 600. Bowen's mother, Laurel, was in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center Thursday to discuss the honor.
"I (said) earlier that he was up here looking down on us, looking at this going, 'Why am I not here?'" Laurel Bowen said. "He would love it."
Neal Villarin, Special Events and Marketing Manager for LiftMaster, said the honor belonged to his company, which was proud to remember everyday heroes like Bowen.
"They represent the values of what is important to us, which are safety, security and peace of mind," Villarin said. "We are proud to honor Capt. Bowen this weekend."
McMurray, fresh off last weekend's invigorating win in the All-Star race, said it was special to be able to have this connection to the fallen firefighter.
"Our goal is to get into victory lane with him on Sunday night," McMurray said.
DISNEY IN PLAY ZONE: Radio Disney Charlotte will host Radio Disney LIVE! "Win, Lose or Draw Edition" Fueled by DOLE Fruit Squish'ems in the Charlotte Motor Speedway Play Zone Sunday 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
The event will feature Austin North from Disney Channel's "I Didn't Do It" and brings the network's "Win, Lose or Draw" to life, giving kids and families across the country a chance to get up close and personal with some of their favorite Disney Channel and Disney XD stars.