Memorial Day Weekend is a time to honor those in the United States military that have made the ultimate sacrifice. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. It unofficially marks the beginning of the summer season, and is the biggest weekend in motorsports.
Tomorrow begins with Formula One's Monaco Grand Prix, followed by IndyCar's 106th Indianapolis 500, and culminates with NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The 600-mile race in the heart of NASCAR country is one of the premier events on the Cup calendar, and tomorrow's race is oozing with anticipation. The 63rd running of the Coca-Cola 600 will take place in front of a packed house on Sunday, as track officials announced that all reserved, premium and standing-room-only seating has sold out.
With Trucks, ARCA, and Xfinity events all wrapped up, Cup drivers were finally able to get some track time this evening. Two short practice sessions preceded qualifying, which saw Denny Hamlin earn pole position for tomorrow's race.
Hamlin earned his second career Coca-Cola 600 pole, and lining up next to him on the front row is one of the cars that he co-owns. Kurt Busch will make his fifth career front row start in this race, looking for his second win of the season. Toyota flexed their muscle and swept the first two rows in qualifying on Saturday night.
"The Coca-Cola 600 is a race that I haven’t won that I really would like to win," Hamlin admitted. "It’s a tough race, it’s an endurance race that really tests the driver and the car, and it’s one of the toughest for a reason. It’s one that I’ve been close, but I just haven’t been able to get the checkered flag there yet. Winning this race would certainly be something that would get added very high on the resume."
Christopher Bell starts 3rd and believes this could be his breakthrough weekend. "We’ve been really close to winning several times this year. I feel like every time we go to the racetrack it’s really fun because we have potential, and we know we have the potential to win week in and week out. Hopefully, everything will come together, and we’ll be able to start winning here soon. We’ve been strong. I think we’re right on the brink of breaking through."
Kyle Busch has been consistently strong on 1.5-mile intermediate speedways this season, and starts 4th tomorrow. "The mile-and-a-half stuff has kind of been our bread and butter a little bit this year," Busch said. "At California we were okay. I thought we were quick, but we got behind early, but then Vegas and Kansas were both really good. We were fast there. So being another mile-and-a-half here, hopefully that bodes well." Kyle won the Coca-Cola 600 back in 2018 when he won eight races that season.
William Byron qualified 5th to lead the way for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet, with rookie Austin Cindric lining up to his outside. Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick make up a hungry Row 4 with Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell rounding out the top ten in qualifying.
Martin Truex Jr was the only Toyota driver to miss out of the top ten in qualifying. Truex dominated the Coca-Cola 600 back in 2016 when he led 392 of the 400 laps and is aiming for his fourth victory at Charlotte. The veteran remains winless this season though, earning just two top-five finishes in 13 races.
Ryan Blaney just missed advancing to the final round of qualifying but will start 11th tomorrow. "I hope it gets wide out there," the Penske driver said. "That is when this car is really good when you can run the fence, the bottom, and the middle and get some air under your nose. That is when the racing is really good with this car, like at Fontana and Vegas. If it is easy for drivers to mess up and make mistakes and be on the verge of wrecking, that is when you see people go forward and backward and it takes a wide track to do that."
Defending Coke 600 winner Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Group A practice, but his No. 5 Chevrolet slid up and into the outside wall in Turn 2 and suffered significant damage. He was not able to qualify and will start 36th tomorrow. It will be a tall task, but if Larson is able to win tomorrow night, he would be just the seventh driver to win back-to-back Coke 600 races. He would be added to the list of legendary drivers like Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin is looking to add a Coca-Cola 600 victory to his other Crown Jewel wins - the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 at Darlington. The only active driver that has won those three events is Kevin Harvick. Like Truex, Harvick has won three times at Charlotte and is searching for his first win this year. Although his winless drought stands at 56 races, the Stewart Haas Racing veteran understands the spirit of this special 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.”
Coverage for tomorrow's Coca-Cola 600 begins at 6 PM ET on FOX.