What is the biggest factor that can lead to a Coca-Cola 600 win? A dominant car is one answer, but Kevin Harvick knows that small sacrifices play a role.
The 2014 Cup Series champion is no stranger to success at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick has two Coca-Cola 600 wins — 2011 and 2013. He has also finished runner-up on multiple occasions. Harvick knows that teams can’t win the race by setting up the car for the hot afternoon. Instead, they must focus on the end when darkness falls.
“There’s just not a lot of room for error because somebody’s going to be good and you’ve got to put yourself in a position to stay on the lead lap,” Harvick said, per Stewart-Haas Racing. “There are so many different areas of transition that you go through in that race because of the fact that the sun goes down after it starts hot and slick.
“Then as you transition into the night, you have to have something completely different in your car compared to what you had at the beginning of the race. So there’s a sacrifice you have to make at the beginning of the race to just basically try to keep yourself in a good position. Don’t make any mistakes, stay on the lead lap, and try and put yourself in a good position for the night because that’s when it really counts.”
Preventing Mistakes Remains Crucial at Charlotte Motor Speedway
With the Coca-Cola 600 being 400 laps, there are plenty of opportunities for mistakes to happen. The drivers have numerous pit stops while completing 600 laps, which sets up potential speeding penalties or issues in the pit stall.
On one hand, the length of the race gives teams time to recover from mistakes. If they served a pass-through penalty, they can potentially get back on the lead lap with the number of inevitable cautions that occur.
These cautions and restarts help teams recover from mistakes, but they also potentially extend the length of the race. This is not ideal for teams that are trying to conserve fuel.
One of Harvick’s Coca-Cola 600 wins was the result of fuel mileage issues. Kasey Kahne took the green flag as the leader in overtime during the 2011 race, but he ran out of gas before taking the white flag.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. then moved into the lead, but he also ran out. Kevin Harvick was next in line, and he led the field to the checkered flag. He captured the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time, and he added a Crown Jewel to his collection.
Harvick Will Pursue a Final Coca-Cola 600 Win
Harvick has made 40 starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway during his Cup Series career. He has won three times — twice in the Coca-Cola 600 and once in the Bank of America 500.
Harvick now has one more opportunity to win the Crown Jewel race before he walks away and joins FOX Sports. He will have a solid chance to achieve this goal considering the speed the No. 4 team has shown in 2023.
Harvick’s most recent start at the Concord track also resulted in a third-place finish behind winner Denny Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch. This marked his seventh top-10 finish in the past eight races.
“For me, Charlotte was always one of those racetracks that I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know, I don’t like it, I do like it, I don’t like it, I do like it,’” Harvick said. “But over the last 10 or 12 years, it’s been a racetrack that’s been pretty good to me.”