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CONCORD, N.C. -- It might not be NASCAR's biggest race, but the Coca-Cola 600 certainly is one of the crown jewels along with the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500.

Six keys to know for the 600:

1. It's NASCAR's longest race of the year, but that doesn't mean much anymore. When the 600 first began, it was a major challenge just to make the cars and engines last for a race that long.

The drivers, without the cooling systems in the cars today and with no power steering, also faced physical challenges in finishing the race.

But these days, the equipment is up to the challenge — and several drivers said Thursday that an extra 100 miles is no big deal.

"It's not tremendously different anymore," pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson said.

"A 500-mile race is already long. And now you've got 100 more to work on it."

GLUCK: Shorter, segmented races make sense

JOHNSON: 'Slump' leaves most unconcerned

2. No cable camera, no worries. Anyone remember last year's race? Fox Sports' overhead cable camera, which zoomed along the frontstretch, broke before the halfway point of the race. Heavy nylon rope fell into the stands — 10 fans suffered minor injuries — and some of it even damaged cars, including race leader Kyle Busch's No. 18. Because of the incident, the cable cam has not been used in any NASCAR race since.

"(My mind) never wanders off of racing ... unless a cable falls out of the sky," Kevin Harvick said Thursday.

3. Danica's time to shine? This is the first points race since Danica Patrick finished seventh at Kansas Speedway — her best career finish in Sprint Cup. That means it's not out of the question she could do even better Sunday.

Could she win? She starts from the fourth position, her best qualifying position this season and second only to her pole-winning effort at the 2013 Daytona 500.

In addition to a fast car, Patrick has another positive going for her — she's known for taking good care of her equipment and staying out of trouble. In a 600-mile race where survival is key, that could help — especially if she avoids colliding with boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., which is what happened last year.

"We're just doing our best as a team to take the positive from Kansas," Patrick said. "Sure, emotionally, but really setup-wise and things like that we think will translate and carry those on."

4. A Chevrolet kind of day? Judging by practice speeds, Chevy-powered cars might be in store for a good race. Seven of the top nine cars in practice were Chevrolets, led by Dale Earnhardt Jr., two-time Coke 600 winner Harvick and three-time winner Johnson. Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard, Kurt Busch and Patrick also were among the Chevys in the top 10.

Johnson won the pole.

But Harvick in particular could be the one to watch — as he has been since joining Stewart-Haas Racing and teaming with crew chief Rodney Childers. The No. 4 team did commit an error during the final segment of qualifying Thursday, missing a shot at the pole because Harvick didn't go out in time, but he has been fast.

"I think everyone has paid attention to the 4 car this year," Jamie McMurray said Thursday. "From the time we came here and tested in December ... the 4 car has been the fastest off the truck. They've been really the best car all year long."

COCA-COLA 600: Johnson on pole; Danica starts fourth

5. Patriotism on display. NASCAR, which prides itself on supporting the military, begins its annual "American Salute" this weekend (it continues for seven races). Among the drivers sporting patriotic paint schemes are Harvick, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and others.

Meanwhile, all of Goodyear's tires will read "Support Our Troops" as part of an annual campaign. And Charlotte Motor Speedway's prerace spectacular is scheduled to feature "a unique helicopter flyover, a vintage air parade and military demonstrations," according to the track.

MAN OF STEEL: No. 88 will carry Superman logo

6. Super Dale? Superman is riding on Earnhardt's No. 88 car this weekend as part of a partnership with DC Comics. The driver said he'd love a win at Charlotte, where he's 0-for-28.

"We haven't won here in a points-paying race," the 2000 All-Star Race winner said. "This is a track that I always got to come to ever since I was old enough to get to the racetrack. The 600 would be in the top five of my favorite wins if I can get that this weekend."

Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck

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