Action, significance abound in Coca-Cola 600 top storylines

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The countdown to Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway has begun.

The green flag is slated to drop at approximately 6:07 p.m. ET for the longest and most grueling race on the Sprint Cup schedule — 400 laps (barring a green-white-checker finish that might extend that number) around the 1.5-mile oval.

Among the top storylines to watch for in the race:

* How will Kurt Busch fare after finishing a quite respectable sixth in the Indianapolis 500? Busch is the first driver to attempt the so-called “Double” since Robby Gordon last tried it in 2004.

* How will Jeff Gordon’s (photo) back feel after spasms forced him to cut short his first practice run and completely miss the entire second practice session Saturday? If Gordon cannot start, or if his spasms worsen during the course of the event, Regan Smith is on standby to replace Gordon if need be.

* Danica Patrick is coming off not only her best-ever Sprint Cup finish two weeks ago at Kansas (seventh), she qualified fourth for tonight’s race and was consistently in the top 10 in both of Saturday’s practice sessions. Is she poised to continue that recent success and potentially pull off one of the biggest surprises and upsets in Sprint Cup history with a win tonight? If she stays out of trouble, it’s a definite possibility.

* Kasey Kahne is in the hunt for his fourth career Coca-Cola 600 win. If he’s able to turn the trick, he’d also earn his first win of the 2014 season.

* Speaking of drivers without wins in 2014, pole-sitter and six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is still seeking his first visit to victory lane this season, along with Matt Kenseth (who led the Sprint Cup series last season with seven wins), Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Sprint All-Star Race winner Jamie McMurray among others.

* Kyle Busch wrecked his primary car in Saturday’s second practice session, forcing his team to bring out his back-up car. As a result, the younger Busch brother will start from the back of the field, even though he qualified seventh. Busch has finished third three different times but is still seeking his first win in the 600.

* Will the 600 turn into a fuel-mileage battle? Teams will typically attempt to go 45 laps per stop, meaning there will likely be at least nine pit stops during the course of the race. But some teams will try to stretch the fuel window, especially in the first half of the race, to assure they’ll have enough fuel so as not to have to worry about running out of gas in the closing laps.

* Sunday’s race marks the 12th event and the one-third point of the season. After Sunday’s race, there will be 14 left in the regular season to qualify for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.

* Will Toyota start to get back on track? Chevrolet has won five races, Ford four and Toyota just two in the first 11 races of the season.

Yes, the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the season and the racing can be both exciting and monotonous at times (particularly in the middle part of the event). But in a true test of man and machine, it doesn’t get better than what we’re going to see tonight.

But let’s not forget the biggest storyline of all, one that has absolutely nothing to do with tonight’s race: Please keep in your mind and prayers those who have fought for, continue to fight for you and those who made the supreme sacrifice so that we can enjoy things like NASCAR racing.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”