FYI WIRZ: NASCAR's Top 3 at the Coca-Cola 600 Talk Marathon Surprise

Dwight Drum@@racetakeCorrespondent IIIMay 30, 2011

Celebration for the No. 29 car in victory lane at Charlotte
Celebration for the No. 29 car in victory lane at CharlotteGeoff Burke/Getty Images

Memorial Day is by definition a great tribute to all of our military who have served and sacrificed.  The weekend is also about picnics and racing—the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis, Ind., and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C. Those races normally consume an entire Sunday and night.  In 2011, both devoured the winning hopes of J.R. Hildebrand in IZOD IndyCar and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR.    

It was an alphabetical nightmare for the letters J and R. 

J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final turn of the final lap of the venerable Indy 500 and bounced down the wall to finish second to Dan Wheldon.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. led some late laps in the marathon Coca-Cola 600, desperately trying to conserve fuel and might have crossed the finish line first—if he had about a pint more of gasoline.  Earnhardt Jr. ran out going into the final turn and coasted to a seventh-place finish. 

Kevin Harvick surprised with a win while David Ragan and Joey Logano followed.

An estimated 160,000 gathered for Coca-Cola 600 and were treated early on race day with Indianapolis 500 TV coverage displayed on the new world's-largest HD screen at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Fans coming to see their favorite drivers compete in NASCAR’s “Longest Night” were able to view the action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  

This year, the Indianapolis 500 celebrated its 100th year.  Indianapolis Motor Speedway was completed about 50 years after the U.S. Civil War and Charlotte Motor Speedway was completed about 50 years after IMS. 

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In that same 100-year time span, mankind has gone literally from muskets to rockets.

The exciting race in progress in Indianapolis on a track built as testing grounds for automobiles was showcased on an enormous, crystal-clear screen while thousands of fans awaited their exciting race in Charlotte.

The human experience has come a long way, but two “JRs” in the motorsports world (J.R. Hildebrand and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) came up short on one big race day.

Racing engines are powerful but emotions are potent too, certainly before and after the flags in stock car racing.
 
Drivers almost always seem optimistic, but comments by Harvick, Ragan and Logano before and after the excitement at the green flag reveal much. 

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com.  Quotes derived from team and sanction press releases.

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Chevrolet): Finished 1st (Started 28th)

Before the Green Flag

“Everything you do in that race is at night and the 600 is going to end at night,” Harvick said

“You have to take what happens at the All-Star race and then what you do in the day time practices and mix those two together and rely on a lot of past notes and things to try to have a set up that’s adjustable.  And you have to make a lot of adjustments during the race.  You are just going to have to trust it’s the right change and just make it if the time is right as far as the sun going down and when the darkness is coming.”

After the Checkered Flag

“I will be happy when we drive out of that tunnel, and the month of May is over," Harvick said.  “It's a great facility, and I know everybody loves coming here because it's close to home.  For me it's been a struggle since day one of my career—so for me it's just been that thing in my mind, that one racetrack that just frustrates the hell out of me that I can't figure out.

“Sometimes it's just about believing in everybody around you and putting yourself in position to win. The championship teams are when you can take a 15th place car and you can finish 5th with it, and that's what we did today.”

On Beating Dale Jr.

"I feel like complete crap, to tell you the truth,” Harvick said.  “Man, when I saw that thing slowing down, I was like, I really want to win the race, but why can't it be on a day when we're running bad or have something going wrong.

“I think everybody sitting up here would say we want the 88 to win and they're so close to winning and both times they had a chance to win.  I feel so stinking bad for him, and I know how bad he wants it. But it's—it'll happen.  They keep running like that, it'll happen.”

David Ragan (No. 6 Ford): Finished 2nd (Started 8th)

Before the Green Flag

“All-Star weekend was a good outing for us and hopefully we can build on that. The Coca-Cola 600 is a totally different mindset, but Drew and I have a good plan for the race. I’m pretty excited about qualifying Thursday evening after last week; it’s all about track position so it’s important to start up front.”

 

After the Checkered Flag

"I thought it was gonna get ugly there at the end, which it did for everyone else and not us,” Ragan said.  “We had a top three or four car, I think.

“We could have done all that in 40 laps and been at the house a couple of hours ago.  That’s just how competitive the Sprint Cup Series is today.  We can race for 600 miles and there’s still 15 cars that have a shot to win it at the end.  I think that’s something that is good about our sport.  Some strategy finally came into it.  There were some guys on old tires, I think two tires a lot during the night, four tires, so it was a very, very fun race to drive and to work out.”

Joey Logano (No. 20 Toyota): Finished 3rd (Started 23rd)

Before the Green Flag

“We all have particular tracks around the country that we call our ‘home track’ but Charlotte is where most of us live now and where all of the shops are,” Logano said.  “And because of that, there are always a lot of guests and people from the teams that to come to the track on race weekend that don’t normally get to see us race when we are traveling.  So to win at Charlotte is something that is pretty important to every driver out there.  I know I really want to get a win there too.

“Charlotte is also probably my favorite track. It’s just a great place to race, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been pretty good there over the years.”

After the Checkered Flag

“I’m just happy to get one here, as many as we got taken away this year like that,” Logano said.  “We’ll take one and get a good finish out of this day.  Hopefully, this will put some momentum on our side and we have some good race tracks coming up for us.

“It’s just never giving up, man.  That’s all it is.  None of these guys do. My whole team doesn’t and the 43 drivers don’t.  So, that’s what you really got to be in it the whole time and got to keep focused and keep your head in the game.”