Related: WATCH: Can Kahne repeat?
CONCORD, N.C. -- You can be too good too soon, says Kasey Kahne -- and as a three-time winner of NASCAR's most grueling race, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has the resume to back up the remark.
The Coca-Cola 600, scheduled for May 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is the longest race for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series teams. It's an event that, barring weather issues, begins under the glare of the sun and ends long after darkness has begun to creep into the corners of the 1.5-mile speedway.
Drivers chase drivers while crew chiefs, armed with a laundry list of possible adjustments, chase ever-changing track conditions.
The additional distance can mean heartache for some, heroics for the chosen few.
"You're definitely not riding, but you don't need to go out there and lead the first 200 miles," Kahne said. "They don't mean anything. You've still got 400 more.
"That's tough at times. If you've got a car that's capable, you're going to go there. And usually if it's capable at that point and time, you're probably not going to be good late at night. I haven't ? I doubt I've led 20 laps during the day of the 600 and we've led a lot at night."
While he hasn't exactly been a pushover during the early stages of previous 600s, Kahne seems to have paced himself, saving up for those late-race, late-night charges.
The defending race winner led 96 laps last year, including 74 of the final 100. In 2008, he led 66 laps -- only 21 during the first half of the race. And while he led 158 laps in 2006, when he scored his first 600 title, he didn't surface out front until the race was nearly 200 laps old.
"You're kind of always chasing it throughout the whole 600," said Kahne, who will start sixth on Sunday. "I've never been good through the whole (race); usually we're not very good until the last 200 miles. That's fine with me.
"It's actually a little discouraging because you have to race 400 miles and you're really not in the hunt, you're seventh to 15th. I got lapped one year and still came back."
Ray Evernham, the former championship-winning crew chief turned car owner, fielded the No. 9 Dodge Kahne put in victory lane at the rack in '06.
During his tenure as crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports, Evernham and driver Jeff Gordon won the 600 on three occasions. Evernham's gamplan was to break the long race into segments of 200 miles each.
"From 0 to 200, you're riding," Evernham said. "I want him not to wear himself out, I want him not to wear the car out. I want him to keep decent position. ...Just keep the car safe and wait until the race track changes. The first 200 miles the track is going to be nothing like it's going to be at the end.
"The second segment you're really talking to this guy. Now you've got to be listening to your driver, looking at your tires; to me tires tell the story. As the race goes on, the track picks up rubber. Your tire pressures, the way the tire wears really tells you what the car is doing.
"If you've got a good car in the first segment ? and you don't touch it, you're done. You're not going to win the race. Right here you've really got to figure out what your final adjustments are; if you're putting spring rubbers in (or) out, things like that, giving up positions on pit road, that's the time to do it."
The final 200 miles, he said, "you're racing."
"You don't want to give up time on pit road; you don't want to make big adjustments. You want to make small changes. Tire pressure, wedge, things like that."
Gordon, 14th in Thursday's qualifying, said it's "harder to pace yourself" today. The adjustability still needs to be there to allow teams to stay on top of the changing conditions, he said, as the pace of the race picks up quickly.
"That is why I love the All-Star race," Gordon said. It really tells us about the night conditions. We don't get any night practice so it's the one practice that we have to know what the track should be like when the sun goes down."
Denny Hamlin will be on the pole, with Kurt Busch alongside him, when the race gets under way on Sunday. Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer will start third through fifth, respectively.
Kahne, just outside the top five, plans to ride. There's no rush to lead. Sixth in points, and with one win already in the books, the 33-year-old knows what's required to win the lengthy race.
"It's definitely my best track as far as winning goes," he said. "For some reason, it's always been a good track for me."
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