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NASCAR prepares for longest race of the year in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte

The Taco Bell team preps for busy night on Pit Road.
The Taco Bell team preps for busy night on Pit Road.
Front Row Motorsports, used with permission

This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series takes to the mile and a half oval at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a race that covers roughly 100 more miles than any other event on the schedule. While most of the racing world will be flipping between Indianapolis and Charlotte, including Kurt Busch, the majority of the field will be focused on what it takes to win the Coca-Cola 600.

Being the longest race of the season, it attracts attention from sponsors who may or may not be on the cars on a regular basis. Germain Racing's associate sponsor Take 5, Home of the 5-Minute Oil Change, has held onto the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS through the bumps and bangs of short track action at Richmond, and the high speed chess match at Talladega Superspeedway. This time, Take 5 is staged to participate in the marathon of NASCAR – the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The race starts in the dimming light of early evening, finishes under the lights over Memorial Day weekend and involves large doses of strategy, endurance and luck. All of that is made easier by the fact that GEICO Chevy driver Casey Mears is a past Coca-Cola 600 race winner, and he and the team hope to have plenty of the key ingredients in store for the 400-lap adventure on Sunday, May 24, 2014.

Take 5 Oil Change offers convenient drive-thru oil changes featuring liquid engineering in Castrol products. Similar to the “stay in your car, have a beverage, too” service the Germain Racing crew offers Mears during each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit stop, Take 5 offers regular drivers “stay in your car” service and Take 5 oil changes come with a complementary beverage and the overall experience is in a low-pressure, high-speed oil change environment.

This is the third race for Take 5 with the GEICO Chevy SS, but the 600 weekend features a very special military-themed GEICO Chevy, complete with camouflage striping to tie into the Memorial Day weekend.

Cole Whitt is one of seven rookies competing in the NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year class, which is considered one of the deepest and most competitive in the history of the award. Unfortunately, his season was interrupted by the recent closure of Swan racing, and he moved to the BK Racing stable, bringing most of the crew, the car, and other personnel with him,. Fortunately, his sponsor from early in the season, Speed Stick® GEAR™, has just signed to sponsor Whitt and the No. 26 Toyota for six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

"I am thrilled to have Speed Stick® GEAR™ back aboard the No. 26 for six races this season and for the rest of the season as an associate sponsor," said Whitt. "Their support is especially meaningful since I continue to be a loyal user of Speed Stick® GEAR™ and their support inspires me to gear up for every single race to do my very best."

Speed Stick® GEAR™ will be the primary sponsor for the No. 26 BK Racing Toyota for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and then at Michigan International Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway, and Championship Weekend at Homestead–Miami Speedway. These race weekends will include show car and driver appearances in each race market. Additionally, Speed Stick® GEAR™ will be an associate sponsor of the No. 26 for the remainder of the 2014 NASCAR season.

"Speed Stick® GEAR™ provides the No. 26 team with an anchor sponsor to help us advance our level of performance the rest of the season," said Anthony Marlowe who is a co-owner of BK Racing. "I'm looking forward to seeing Cole Whitt and the No. 26 Speed Stick® GEAR™ Toyota competing on the greatest stage in all of motorsports."

The partnership reunites Speed Stick® GEAR™ and Whitt. Speed Stick® GEAR™ was the primary sponsor of the No. 26 and Whitt earlier this year at the Daytona 500.

"We love this sport and Cole Whitt and are proud to once again be supporting him and BK Racing," said Bill Van de Graaf, Vice President and General Manager, U.S. Personal Care, Colgate-Palmolive. "Cole, BK Racing and NASCAR align perfectly with our brand – we are excited to further extend the partnership."

As part of Speed Stick's Daytona 500 sponsorship, the company produced a riveting video chronicling Whitt's experience to qualify for and to compete in the Great American Race, which can can be seen on Speed Stick® GEAR™'s YouTube® Channel.

This weekend the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Ford will have a slightly twisted look, as Twisted Tea Brewing Company will be the primary partner on the car driven by Marcos Ambrose in this Sunday's 600-mile feature at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. In addition, Twisted Tea will serve as a primary sponsor of the team at Dover International Speedway during the fall race event.

"It's great to see Twisted Tea increase their involvement with our race team, especially becoming a primary sponsor for such a big event," stated Ambrose. "To have these guys increase their involvement on the car, both as a season-long associate and a two race primary, is a big deal for us. We're trying to improve as an organization and we can't do it without their commitment. We have done a few appearances for Twisted Tea since the beginning of the race season & have met a lot of cool fans in different race markets. It's exciting to see their support and we want to make it count."

Ambrose will be making his 11th start at the mile-and-a-half speedway located just a few short miles from RPM. The Aussie has three Top-10s, including one Top-Five finish at the track. His best finish is fifth in 2011, but hopes to better that with his new sponsor on Sunday.

We really want to give them a good run Sunday," Ambrose continued. "This 600-mile race can be real twisted, with the track conditions changing as the race goes from day to night. The big challenge is adapting to the track which is real sensitive to temperature. It's the perfect race to enjoy some Twisted Tea with friends and family. Hopefully we'll give everyone something to cheer for."

Aric Almirola and the No. 43 team will sport stars, stripes and air planes this weekend as they run the first of two U.S. Air Force paint schemes. Headed into the team's home track, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, the Richard Petty Motorsports team is hopeful that they can endure 600 miles and come out victorious to mark Almirola first Sprint Cup Series win and the No. 43's first win since 1999.

"Six hundred miles is a long race," commented Almirola. "That extra 100 miles isn't that bad physically, but it is mentally. It's abnormal for us. We're used to running three and a half hours, every once in a while we get a four hour race. The 600 seems to average quite a bit over four hours. It's just a long time to be in a racecar whether it's handling well or not and trying to stay on top of the racetrack. It changes so much throughout the day. It starts in the heat of the afternoon and finishes in the coolness of the night, so there is a lot going on."

Almirola brings four Cup starts to the site of his only Sprint Cup Series pole, which he scored with the team in 2012. He also has 10 starts in both Nationwide and the Truck Series where he compiled one top-five, a best finish of fourth in 2007, and five top-10 finishes. Crew Chief Trent Owens brings a plethora of experience to the table with 16 starts at the 1.5-mile track as a crew chief in the Nationwide Series including a win in 2006 and an average finish of 9.2.

"We tend to have a lot of speed in these cars when we go to 1.5-mile race tracks," continued Almirola. "Roush Yates gets us great horsepower. And, we have good handling cars there. We won the pole two years ago and hopefully we can repeat that speed this weekend. The Showdown was not what we expected, but we have good notes and talked a lot about what we can do to fix the car. I think we'll be able to overcome that outcome and finish well on Sunday."

Front Row Motorsports racer David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Love's Travel Stops Ford, hasn't had the best results racing 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but hopes to improve this weekend.

"We learned during All-Star weekend that the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway has changed," stated Gilliland. "It seems a lot rougher than it has in the past. It's actually not just bumps but ripples in the track. And they're on both ends of the track, right in the groove along the bottom. We watched everybody kind of struggle with it last week."

Gilliland has 15 starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with his top finish at the 1.5-mile oval of 20th (2013), a history best for Front Row Motorsports at Charlotte.

"We learned a lot last week that will transfer over to this weekend," Gilliland continued. "But the sheer length of the Coke 600 still makes it an entirely different race. I'd say for the first three quarters of the race the track is changing. The last two or three runs are similar, but from the start of the race to about the three-quarter mark, it's ever-changing. It's the craziest thing."

His teammate David Ragan, driver of the No. 34 Taco Bell Ford, has had much better luck while racing 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with one top-five, three top-10 and five top-15 finishes at the 1.5-mile oval.

"These mile-and-a-half tracks are tough because there's such a critical balance between aero grip and mechanical grip of your racecar," stated Ragan. "The Showdown and the All-Star race last week gave David (Gilliland) and me two different races at two different times of the day to try some things, so that was a big help for our team.

Ragan has 14 Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with his best finish in a Sprint Cup points race at Charlotte of second in 2011.

"It's such a long race and the conditions change so much that, if you try something that doesn't work, you're not stuck with it for 600 miles," Ragan concluded. "The track gains a lot of grip as it gets later. It's really tough on the crew chief to make adjustments throughout the night, trying to predict how fast the racetrack's going to get. When they drop the green flag, you usually have an issue to fight, and it's going to be a different issue when they drop the checkered flag. You're definitely making adjustments every single stop."

Jamie McMurray, LiftMaster, and the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS) team will honor fallen Asheville, North Carolina firefighter, Captain Jeffrey Bowen, by racing with his name above the passenger side door of McMurray’s car in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). The recognition of Bowen’s service to his community during Memorial Day weekend is the result of the relationship between McMurray’s sponsor, LiftMaster, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The NFFF was created in 1992 to remember America’s fallen fire heroes and provide assistance to their families.

“It is our honor to recognize Captain Jeffrey Bowen, his mother Laurel, and other members of the Bowen family during the Charlotte race weekend as part of LiftMaster’s relationship with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation,” said Neal Villarin, Sponsorship & Event Marketing Manger for LiftMaster. “Memorial Day weekend is a time for all of us to remember those that have given the ultimate sacrifice, and we have a feeling that Jeffrey and his family will provide Jamie and his team with some extra luck in this weekend’s race.”

Bowen was a 13-year veteran of the Asheville Fire Department and was fatally injured while responding to a four-alarm fire in an office building in 2011.

“As a veteran firefighter, Captain Bowen is a hero in his community because of his bravery in service, and I am proud to honor him, with his name on our race car during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” said McMurray. “First responders such as Captain Bowen are members of our community and they go above and beyond to keep us safe. A win in the Coca-Cola 600 would be special, but it would be an honor to drive into Victory Lane with Jeffrey’s name on our race car.”

The Bowen family has a full weekend of activities planned starting with the presentation of Thursday night’s LiftMaster Pole Award, and before the green flag waves on Sunday, they will volunteer their time in support of the Firefighter Combat Challenge. The event is hosted during the Charlotte race weekend at the LiftMaster display and is the fifth stop on the Challenge schedule.

“I’m incredibly honored that LiftMaster has chosen to recognize my son and am humbled to have Jamie McMurray and his team’s support for Jeffrey,” said Laurel Bowen. “This will be my first visit to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, so I’m looking forward celebrating my son with my family and volunteering for the Challenge with other members of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.”

In addition to honoring Captain Bowen, LiftMaster also presented a $5,000 donation to the NFFF at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Opening practice is Thursday afternoon, May 22nd, at 2:30 PM (ET) followed by qualifying at 7:10 PM. Friday there is no activity at the track, but the 600 cars return to the 1.5-mile circuit Saturday for practice at 9:30 AM and 1:00 PM. Sunday’s race will be broadcast live on FOX beginning at 5:30 PM (ET). PRN and Sirius XM Ch. 90 will carry the radio coverage of the event.

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