Want to win the 600? Follow these rules

May, 22, 2009

CONCORD, N.C. -- Get a grip on Turns 3 and 4 of Lowe's Motor Speedway, and eat during the race.

Those are the two tricks to winning the Coca-Cola 600 touted by the two drivers who have dominated it over the past six years, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson.

Even approaching this, the 50th running of NASCAR's longest race, we media types keep asking drivers how they handle that extra 100 miles.

"You need to eat during the course of the race to make sure you have energy for the end of it," said Johnson, who won three 600s in a row -- and five out of six Cup races at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- from 2003 to 2005, before giving up the edge to Kahne.

"When Ray [Evernham] was still around [Kahne's team], he passed me a Power Bar, some type of bar during one of the cautions about halfway through the race," Kahne said via teleconference this week. "The first year I got it, I put it aside -- I didn't feel like eating.

"And the second year he said, 'Just try it, just do it.' And I ate it, and it was night and day how much better I felt for the final 100 miles of the race."

Kahne won the 600 in 2006, and again last year. The only 600 not won by him or Johnson since '03 was by Casey Mears on fuel strategy in '07.

Johnson lost his edge in '06 when the track was resurfaced, but before that, he realized that "there's a must-take line in [Turns] 3 and 4 that I [could] always set our car up to run.

"As soon as I would hit that spot, I'd fly through 3 and 4," Johnson continued, "and pass two cars at a time sometimes through there."

The edge "has mainly been in 3 and 4 for myself, too," Kahne said. "I always worked really hard on that corner to get the car through there like I want it to."

Why are 3 and 4 more important than 1 and 2?

"I feel like 1 and 2, to me, has a little bit more grip," Kahne said. "So it's a little bit easier to get through. If you can get through 3 and 4, usually you're really fast in 1 and 2 also."

So to pick a winner Sunday night, watch who's getting through 3 and 4 better as darkness falls and the track tightens up for the later stages of the race.

And watch who's getting an energy bar handed through the window on pit stops. Johnson may actually eat two or three times, as his crew cuts an energy bar into halves or thirds.

But then there's Kyle Busch, who not only doesn't eat, but also drinks very little before the race and in the early stages.

"If I could get a hamburger to fit in the helmet, I might have that," Busch quipped here Thursday. But, "I don't think I can get it in there. … I don't diet any differently [for this race]. The only thing that I'll do is that I probably won't hydrate as much before the race."

Say what? "Won't" hydrate?

"Because it's such a long race, you don't get any opportunity to go to the bathroom," Busch said. "I won't hydrate at all until I get in the car, probably. You'll actually start the race probably almost dehydrated, and then you'll hydrate through the event just to keep that state so you don't have to go to the bathroom every hour."

So in summary, the keys to that extra 100 miles seem to be: 1) Don't be hungry; 2) Don't be loose or tight through 3 and 4; 3) Don't be nagged by the urge to go to the bathroom.

That, plus dodging all the wrecks.



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