- Associated Press - Saturday, May 26, 2012

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - Six hours and 600 miles is a long time to spend in race car.

So what do NASCAR drivers do when the stomach starts grumbling in the middle of Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the Sprint Cup year?

For Martin Truex Jr., grabbing a granola bar or two normally does the trick.

“I’ll grab one under caution,” Truex said. “The hardest part is we do have a head sock in our helmets so it’s tricky to get it up under the head sock. You have to put your knee on the wheel to hold it straight. You use one hand to pull the helmet sock up, and then use your other hand to stick the granola bar up in there. It only takes a few seconds.”

Then Truex adds with a smile, “It’s multi-tasking.”

Truex normally keeps two granola bars in a pouch inside the door.

“There’s a cup holder too for the drink bottle,” he said. “We get those every once in a while during a pit stop.”

Denny Hamlin said simplicity is key.

He likes to have an energy bar that has already been torn open, something he can quickly stick in his mouth when he takes off his glove during a caution lap.

“You always look for the least messy option as possible, no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or anything,” Hamlin said.

Carl Edwards used to have a snack box in his car, but doesn’t eat during any races anymore.

“You have to be careful about eating something when you’re under that much stress and you’ve got the belts tight and everything,” Edwards said. “You have to be careful what you eat even if it seems really simple. So I just don’t eat during the race.”

This is Danica Patrick’s first Coca-Cola 600, so she’s not quite sure what to do. “Maybe I’ll just put extra drink mix in my bottle,” she said. “I managed OK in the 500 at Darlington so hopefully that last hundred miles will not be too big of a deal.”

JOHNSON’S OTHER CAR: Jimmie Johnson, one of the pre-race favorites for the Coca-Cola 600, will drive a different car Sunday than the one he won the Sprint All-Star race in last Saturday night.

“It’s hard not to bring back a car you just won with,” said Johnson, who’ll start third in Sunday night’s race. “(But) with the short time frame and checking in and not getting the car back until Tuesday, it just wasn’t possible.”

Johnson said it’s hard to duplicate a car’s effort even though they’re all constructed similarly.

Like people, each car has a different personality.

“It’s just hard to get them exactly the same,” said Johnson, who has won 16 races on 1.5-mile tracks, more than any other driver. “As hard as you try, there are still always cars that respond better, work better and are easier to set up on the scale pads. They just respond to adjustments easier. We will find those even through the seat of the car and hang on to those for a long time.”


EDWARDS LEFT IN THE DARK: Speaking of what car to run, Edwards doesn’t know what car he’ll be racing when he gets to the track each weekend.

That’s by design.

Bob Osborne, crew chief of the No. 99 Ford, doesn’t like Edwards knowing what he’ll drive.

“When Bob and I started I would have my favorite cars and there have been times when I’d show up at the race track thinking that we were running a certain car and Bob would have switched the car out and my attitude would change negatively,” Edwards said. “I think he got tired of that, so he quit telling me what cars we were running.”

For weeks Edwards kept asking. Osborne wouldn’t tell him. Now he doesn’t bother with the question anymore.

“There have been a number of times where we run really, really well and the next week I’d say, `Boy I really like this car. I’m glad you guys got it turned it around.’ Then (the crew) would say, `Well that’s a different car,’” Edwards said. “So Bob has done a good job of keeping me from having my favorites, and I think that’s best for us.”

PETTY’S GUYS UP FRONT: Richard Petty put both of his race cars in the front row for the start of the Coca-Cola 600, a huge boost for the organization.

But neither pole sitter Aric Almirola or Marcos Ambrose was among the top 10 in the early practice runs Saturday. Ambrose had the 11th fastest lap in the morning session and 13th in the afternoon. Almirola, the pole sitter, was 15th fastest in the morning and only 34th best in the afternoon.

Denny Hamlin was fastest driver in the morning practice turning a lap of 186.239 mph, while Brad Keselowski was the fastest in the heat of the afternoon at 183.692.

GORDON HONORED: The North Carolina Department of Transportation dedicated a section of Interstate-85 near the Charlotte Motor Speedway to honor the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon’s on-track achievement as well as his contributions in the community, including the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.

Gordon, who has 85 career victories, became the first non-North Carolina native NASCAR driver to have a road named in his honor.

“I’m going to have a big smile on my face because I travel on that road every week,” said Gordon, whose race shop is in Charlotte. “Every time I see that sign, I’m going to smile and be very proud of this moment… Not every day you have an expressway named after you.”

NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt and the late Benny Parsons all have state roads or highways dedicated in their names as North Carolina natives.

TEMPERATURES RISING: Temperatures are expected in the mid-90s for Sunday’s race.

Gordon said that only complicates things for drivers.

“It’s a challenging race on its own and then you throw the heat and humidity in there; plus how long this race is and it’s definitely going to make for some big challenges,” Gordon said. “There is still a little bit of daylight when this race starts which can beat the track up and makes for even more challenges on how you start the race out and how you’re going to balance it out as the temps go down and night comes and the track changes.”

TRACK REPAIRS: Track officials had to repair a portion of the front stretch at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday morning after it got dug up by a practice for a rally cross race Friday night. The ramps used for jumps dug into the track’s surface and left gouges.

The holes were quickly fixed and seemed to hold up well for the Sprint Cup practice sessions a short while later. Track officials are satisfied with the adjustments and don’t foresee it being an issue for the Coca-Cola 600.

However, no ramps will be used in Saturday night’s Global Rallycross race.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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