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Same track, different races

CONCORD, N.C. -- The Sprint Cup Series drivers compete on back-to-back weekends at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, but the races in some ways couldn't be more different.

The Sprint All-Star Race, run entirely after sundown with segments of 25 laps with a 10-lap shootout, doesn't feature any long green-flag runs. Teams have no options on the final pit stop - they must take four tires.

The Coca-Cola 600 features long periods of green-flag racing. It goes from daylight to dusk to darkness with rubber buildup on the track that can impact the racing groove. Teams can choose when they make a final pit stop and how many fresh tires they want to take.

While it makes a nice storyline, teams can only translate so much from one weekend to the next. The racing is much different and the setups are different. Don't expect everyone fast -- or slow -- a week ago to have the same success or struggles for 400 laps Sunday.

"You have to understand the all-star and be fast in that," said Kasey Kahne, who swept the May races in 2008 and is one of only two drivers in the last 10 years to accomplish that feat (the other: Kurt Busch, 2010). "If you try to do the exact same thing the next week, it doesn't work out. ... You can carry a lot from the All-Star Race to the 600 but the track is always different.

"Even when you practice in the day, it's different. I guess it's more rubber, a week later with rubber on it with sun and rain, it just changes."

After a lackluster All-Star Race, many fans hope for a change in the racing dynamic. They'll want to see a little more action, a few more battles for the lead. That should happen just as cars get worse or better throughout a run, or when drivers experiment more with two or four fresh tires when the caution comes out.

But drivers expect to fight similar aerodynamic battles that they have fought on intermediate tracks this year and especially at Charlotte last week.

"Your car is never going to run as fast behind another car as it does by itself," said Kevin Harvick, who finished second in the All-Star Race. "It's just impossible. It's just absolutely impossible.

"And I think these cars, over the last 20 years, have become more sensitive in aero-push. ... I could make my car run fast behind other cars last week, but it's just a totally different way of driving the car when you're behind somebody than it is when you're driving by yourself."

Matt Kenseth sits on the pole for the Coca-Cola 600. He knows his car has speed. Now he hopes he can pass when needed. He admits at Texas earlier this year, he got stuck midpack and had difficulty passing. The Toyotas have what they hope is an improved engine package that they debuted this month, and not only does Kenseth sit on the pole, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates start third (Carl Edwards), fifth (Denny Hamlin) and 17th (Kyle Busch).

"The All-Star Race, everybody has four tires, it's 10 laps and that's probably going to be quite different than what you have at the end of the 600," Kenseth said. "People have been driving for four hours and cars that have been out there for four hours and some people are going to drop out.

"Things are just going to be different. I don't know that I would put too much stock in that [race]. Certainly it's always at a premium to pass and you have to have your car handling better than a fair amount of other ones to pass them for sure."

The differences between the two races also includes qualifying. Because drivers had 110 laps of racing in the All-Star Race, most spent the entire practice session Thursday working on qualifying, knowing they still had two more practice sessions Saturday to work on any race setups. For that reason, Joey Logano says, don't read much into the fact that some of the most dominant cars won't start up front. Harvick, who has two wins this year, will start eighth, the highest starting spot of any Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson starts the highest among all the Hendrick Motorsports drivers in 13th.

They will need to be patient to make passes as well as making sure their cars are best when the sun goes down about two-thirds through the race.

"We're going to fight that air," said Logano, who will start beside Kenesth on the front row. "It's a challenge we have here. It's a track that has a lot of grip. We go very fast. We have a lot of horsepower, so it's going to be challenging out there to make these passes.

"We're going to see strategy. People are going to have to take the chance at some point to get themselves up there. Whether you get the reward or not, I think it's just got to be well calculated and make sure you understand what you're doing when you make these moves."

Logano said a driver might have to decide between having a good short-run car versus a long-run car.

"Restarts are going to be key," Logano said. "That's when you make the most passes, so making sure your car is good on the short run is going to be important. But it's a long run race, so it's hard to have both."