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Charlotte to salute troops at Coca-Cola 600

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Two-time 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner Kevin Harvick helped wave the green flag Tuesday on Charlotte Motor Speedway's Memorial Day weekend celebration.

Last year's winner of the Coca-Cola 600 and the driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet took country music star Brantley Gilbert for hot laps around the Concord, North Carolina facility. Gilbert will perform a special 45-minute pre-race concert, presented by Coca-Cola and the USO on Sunday, May 25.

"I used to give these guys (at Charlotte Motor Speedway) a bad time about coming here," Harvick said. "I was like 'I don't want to come to Charlotte.'"

Although he finished second in his first career start in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2001, he didn't notch his first victory in NASCAR's test of endurance until 2011 and became a two-time winner of the Memorial Day classic last year.

"The first half of my career is like a 180 (turn) from where it has been over the second half of my career," Harvick said. "It's been a lot of fun over the last several years to come here and race, win races, and be competitive.

"This is just a big week for a lot of guys in the shop and their families to ... come to the epicenter of where all our shops are."

The track's Salute to the Troops will recognize four recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor for a soldier. U.S. Army veterans Col. Joe Marm, Command Sgt. Major Robert Patterson and Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morrison were all awarded the Medal of Honor for Actions during the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Ty Carter of the U.S. Army (former U.S. Marine Corps) earned his Medal of Honor for actions in the War in Afghanistan.

A four-helicopter flyover, the Papa John's Pizza Party and the Patriot Partners initiative will salute more than 1,200 troops and their families. On pit road, fans can see 15 vintage military vehicles on loan from the Veterans Service Corp of South Carolina as well as Humvees, troop carriers, a maintenance wrecker and a Navy SEAL Raptor from the North Carolina National Guard.

More than 120 volunteers will unfurl a football field-sized American flag on the infield during the National Anthem. The flag, which measures 150-by-300 feet, is produced by 50 Star Productions.

"Over the years, Charlotte Motor Speedway has set the standard when it comes to showing our support of the armed forces, and this year will be no different," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We want to give all the men and women who have served in the past and who continue to fight for our freedom today a great big bear hug and let them know how much their service means to our country."

The track also announced that NASA Commander Steve Swanson will give drivers the command to start engines from aboard the International Space Station.

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