Saturday, October 16, 2021

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More Than One Story Heading into the 52nd Coca-Cola 600

By Nathan Butler

The 52nd running of the Coca-Cola 600 (formerly World 600), gives fans a sense of NASCAR’s past. NASCAR fans think of this race as one of its own. Most fans who can remember the World 600 are fans of Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, the late, great Dale Earnhardt and many others who are considered “veterans” of this sport. Granted, many of those fans have either changed their loyalty to Dale Earnhardt Jr., or to another Ford, Chevy or Dodge driver.

The Coca-Cola 600, which happens to fall on Memorial Day weekend every year, is a dedication to some of our Country’s bravest. Whether it is the pre-race military helicopters flying over the stands, or the “blowing up” of the enemies huts in the front tri-oval, there is a strong military presence at the Coca-Cola 600. What is amazing this year is that speedway officials have given some of their own seats to honor the NAVY seals for their capturing and killing of Osama Bin Laden. If you are a proud American, this is where you need to be!

One major storyline going into the Coca-Cola 600 is, “When will Trevor Bayne make his return to NASCAR?” Trevor had a press conference Friday and was asked many questions that pertain just to that. Trevor put it best when he opened with this statement; “I missed you guys. It has been bad being away. It has been incredible to me and a real eye opener of how supportive everyone in our sport is.” NASCAR is a community where drivers feel connected with their fans. It is almost like a democracy, drivers know they need the fans and the fans know they need the drivers. One might add, a NASCAR fan may not be a fan of Trevor Bayne, but one can respect what he has done in the racing world. Everyone was concerned about why he has been out of racing, and to our amazement, not many people know why. Trevor announced to the media on Friday that there has not been a diagnosis, not even the doctors in the Mayo Clinic know what was wrong with him. As traumatic as that incident was for a young driver like Trevor, he concluded on a positive note, “I plan on making my return to the Nationwide Series in Chicagoland.” Racing needs Trevor, and Trevor needs racing.

Another big story heading into the 52nd annual Coca-Cola 600 was not necessarily about the race, but of Kyle Busch’s run in with the law. It seemed like the media had a field day when Kyle Busch had his weekly meeting with the press. It started off with Kyle apologizing first thing, “I’m certainly sorry for my actions and for my lack of judgment. This is something that I can take and learn from hopefully move forward and not let happen again.” Kyle was then asked about his incident in more detail, when it was the media’s turn to ask questions.

Have you personally spoken with your team owner, your sponsors, and your neighbors about the speeding incident?

I have certainly had discussions with Mr. Coach Gibbs (team owner) as well as Joe Gibbs Racing and my sponsors as well too. It’s just a matter of showing your utmost respect for them and what they do for you. They believe in you to do what you can in order to represent them well and obviously I had a lack in judgment and just made a mistake. I’m sorry for making that mistake, but as far as any of the people that may have made comments or anything like that, I don’t have a relationship with any of those people. Unfortunately, I don’t go door-to-door knocking on the door and commenting to them. All I can do is say my piece here and let it be.”

What did you mean when you said the Lexus was, ‘just a toy?’

Well it was a car that was on loan to me from Lexus and it wasn’t that it was a toy, it’s a high performance vehicle and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Should be driven with caution. Obviously, I didn’t have a caution and I had a lack in judgment and there’s probably a reason why on TV commercials and such they always show at the bottom, professional driver, closed course. Mine was not that. Again, I apologize sincerely to all those affected and that all I can do is try to make sure it doesn’t happen again and that I make sure that lack of judgment doesn’t overcome me.”

One great story line heading into the Memorial Day race is the debut of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Ricky will take Trevor Bayne’s driver seat this week, for the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Ricky only ran 12 laps in practice, which he felt was not enough time to get used to a Cup car. Ricky only has experience in the Nationwide series car, where he won his first career race last week in Iowa. On his first lap of qualifying he turned a lap of 28.309sec, only 0.197sec off the pole which put him P9 on the speed charts. It would really be something for Ricky to have a good enough finish this week that would him secure him a NSCS ride next season.

With all of these story lines, it is finally time for my NASCAR fantasy picks for this week. I must remind you that these are amateur picks, so please use them at your own discretion. My 52nd annual Coca-Cola 600 picks:

Target: Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth

Avoid: Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Denny Hamlin

Analysis: Kyle Busch has never won here but he’s come close many times. Kurt Busch swept the May 2010 races, but doesn’t seem to be as productive as he was this point last year. Jimmie Johnson has had trouble recently but he’s led laps in 18 straight Charlotte races.

Bargain: David Ragan finished 10th last October. Paul Menard finished P8 in the Coca-Cola 600 last May.

Expect this Coca-Cola 600 to be full of excitement and thrill, and will definitely leave your adrenalin pumping. Next up is Kansas, should be another great race…

Until next time~ “Let’s go racin’ boys!”- DW

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