CONCORD, N.C. — It will take about four hours to complete the Coca-Cola 600 tonight at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With temperatures inside the car topping 140 degrees and the physical demands of driving 400 laps around a high-banked track, drivers are packing food for the long drive.
They will all have drinks inside the car and most will have a variety of quick snacks to fend off hunger pains.
“I usually have a granola bar or a little protein-type thing in my – I have a little pouch on my door pad that I keep stuff in,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “I usually eat a granola bar at one point during the race most weeks. I get hungry. There’s a cup holder, too, for the drink bottle. We get those every once in a while during a pit stop.”
By the end of the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, pit road and the track apron will be littered with wrappers and empty cups. The garage area will be filled with cars and drivers which have been pushed beyond the brink of exhaustion.
Most races usually have a running distance of 400 or 500 miles. Charlotte, the home track for most teams, has played host to a 600-mile event since 1960 when it joined the schedule.
For many, the extra 100 miles have been costly. Only four of the past 20 leaders at the 500-mile mark have gone on to win.
“You can definitely tell,” Truex said. “I can remember nights where my car was off in the 600 and they would say, ‘You’re coming to halfway or you’re 10 laps to halfway.’ I remember thinking, ‘There is no way this race is only half over – it feels like we’ve been out here forever.’ It definitely feels like a longer race.”
There are other challenges than physical and mechanical endurance. The green flag will wave at 6:19 p.m. – the hottest portion of the day – and the end won’t come until it’s cooler at 10. Drivers will have to make continual adjustments to make sure their cars are best for the final 100 miles – all without getting too far behind early.
“The one thing I like about it is the challenge of the distance of this race, the challenge physically inside the car,” Greg Biffle said. “It’s going to be 89 degrees and we’re going to be in there for five-and-a-half hours. It’s 140-150 degrees in there for a long time, so the challenge of keeping your head on straight, keeping focus, and keeping the equipment are all challenges. I love challenges and they’re challenges we have to manage as a team and as a driver.
“Always the races that kind of start more in the day and finish at night present their own challenges to keeping up with the race track. That’s always been a difficulty for everyone, but it’s the same for everyone.”