CONCORD, N.C. -- The Richard Petty Motorsports teammates who will start Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 side-by-side on the front row have the same short-term objective -- to lead the first lap. After winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole in Thursday's time trials, Aric Almirola will lead the field to green to start NASCAR's longest race. Marcos Ambrose, who hasn't won a Cup pole yet, will take the green flag in whichever lane -- outside or inside -- Almirola doesn't choose. Both Almirola and Ambrose have the same thing in mind. "I want to lead that first lap, so I hope he treats me well," Ambrose quipped. "It's just a proud moment for us to be on the front row like that together. The worst thing we could do is to cause each other trouble, so we know what we need to do. "Whatever lane he chooses, I'm just going to go for it and see if I can lead the first lap." Just don't expect Almirola to back off. "I fully expect to lead some laps tomorrow night," Almirola said. "I think our (car) is fast enough to be able to lead some laps, so we want to go out and get a good start and get some clean air on the car and go have a good race." BOWYER: PRAY FOR RAIN Clint Bowyer is ready to defend his victory in Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream dirt Late Model charity race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, but he'll be on a tight schedule as he tries to win the race for the second time. The first session of testing at newly paved Pocono Raceway is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6, from noon to 4 p.m. ET. The Prelude will take place that night, 480 miles to the west. Bowyer and the other Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Prelude will fly from Pocono to Eldora after practice. They won't get a chance to hang out and enjoy the fellowship as they usually do after the race. With the second session practice set for Thursday morning, drivers will have to hustle back to Pocono as soon as possible. "This year the schedule's really, really difficult," Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service after Tuesday's 2013 NASCAR Camry unveiling at Toyota Racing Development in Salisbury, N.C. "It's going to be pretty chaotic that week." Bowyer is a car owner in the dirt Late Models ranks, and he also fields cars for himself and 2010 winner Jimmie Johnson in the Prelude. That makes the schedule doubly tough, because Bowyer's team not only has to prepare cars for the Prelude but also for the Dream (one of the nation's foremost dirt Late Model races) that follows throughout the weekend. "I've never said this before, but hopefully it'll rain one or the other out (Prelude or Pocono test)," Bowyer said. "Maybe it'll monsoon at Pocono, like it always does, and we can go back to having fun in our dirt race." THE BIG TRANSITION Even though the Sprint All-Star Race is 90 laps long, and the Coca-Cola 600 runs 400 laps, Brad Keselowski says the transition from one weekend to the next may be more pronounced from a crew chief's point of view than it is for a driver. "I definitely think there's a transition there where you have to be a little more patient, so to speak," Keselowski said. "And I think it's probably more of a transition for the crew chiefs than it is for the drivers, because, at the end of the day, it's still our job to drive the cars very, very hard and make 'em go fast. "I think that's it's more of a transition for the crew chiefs to make sure that the cars have maybe a more appropriate balance of speed and reliability -- and speed being long versus a short run, and reliability obviously being parts and components that don't fail in such a long race. "It certainly requires a different approach, and I think that's great. It showcases teams that are strong in multiple directions, and I kind of think it's pretty cool." Keselowski, who finished second in the All-Star Race, seems well-prepared for the 600. His No. 2 Penske Dodge posted the fastest lap (183.692 mph) in final Cup practice Saturday afternoon.
- Aric Almirola
- Clint Bowyer