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Ask Aric Almirola: How do you prepare for the Coca-Cola 600?

Hydration is key for NASCAR’s longest race.

Tampa’s Aric Almirola and the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series will be in Charlotte this weekend for the longest race of the year — the Coca-Cola 600.

So what’s different about this 400 lap race compared to everything else on the schedule?

We asked the Hillsborough High alumnus in this week’s installment of Ask Aric —a periodic feature where the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford shares his thoughts on racing, the season and his hometown.

What’s different about preparing for the Coca-Cola 600 compared to other races on the schedule?

Preparing for the Coke 600 is a little bit different. You go into the race weekend with the same mentality of trying to make sure the car performs the way you want it to, but physically the biggest challenge going into a 600-mile race is hydration —making sure that leading into the race, you haven’t been out on the lake partying too much and drinking beer and all that stuff, because that makes a big difference. It really does. Trying to keep up throughout the week leading into the event with staying hydrated.

Then the day of the event, it’s usually one of the first hot weekends that we’ve had, Memorial Day weekend. I know this weekend in particular is going to be extremely hot, so making sure that I stay in the air conditioning as much as possible that day. Don’t be out gallivanting around in the morning time and really just conserve the energy.

The race starts at 6 p.m., so you have to be mindful of that. You can’t get up at 6 a.m. and be out and about doing a lot of different things throughout the day. All the sponsor appearances and media appearances and all the stuff leading up to the race, you’ve got to be mindful of that.

You’ve really got to concentrate on conserving your energy. Once you strap into that racecar, you’re in there for a good four, four and a half hours. What we do in the racecar is very similar to the heart rate of a marathon runner. When you’re talking about doing that for four, four and a half hours, and the internal temperature of the racecar’s 140, 145 degrees, it is a challenge.

When you start to get dehydrated, you lose focus. And when you lose focus, you don’t hit your marks, and you don’t run as fast of lap times as you could if you were fresh and feeling good. That’s my take on it. That’s what I do to make sure that I prepare, and I am very conscious of that extra 100 miles. It does make a difference.