NASCAR Picks for Charlotte
Length: 1.500 miles
Location: Concord, North Carolina
If NASCAR had Grand Slam events, this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 would certainly be one of them. The 600-mile marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the longest race of the year, and it is no coincidence that on the same day as the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR decided to up the ante and top open-wheel racing's biggest event by adding an extra 100 miles and holding the Sprint Cup race in primetime. The Memorial Day event is also special because it is held in Charlotte, which is home to a majority of the Cup Series teams and the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Not to mention the fact that drivers and teams want to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the simple fact that it is hard to do. A lot of things can happen over the course of 600 miles, and the distance tests the endurance of all aspects of a race team.
From a fantasy standpoint, the race can be a rollercoaster ride. Since the race starts in the daylight and ends under darkness, the track temperature changes throughout the race and forces teams to make constant adjustments to their setups. As a result, drivers that are fast to start the race can lose the handle on their cars by the end, and drivers that struggle at the start can end up challenging for the win. Throw in the fact that tires, tempers and engines all seem to reach their breaking point in the last 100 miles, and the only time you can really feel confident in your picks is after they have crossed the finish line.
Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
I'm not sure Logano has ever topped my rankings, but he deserves the top spot this weekend. For one, his 10.4 average finish at Charlotte is the best in the series; and in 10 starts at the track, he has eight top-15 finishes. Meanwhile, he has been the best driver in the series at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014, picking up a win and two fourth-place finishes in three starts and leading a series-best 215 laps.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
He is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and Harvick has actually won the Coca-Cola 600 twice in the last three years. He has also finished 11th or better in seven of his last eight starts at Charlotte, posting a 7.1 average finish during the stretch. In his last six starts at the track, Harvick has four finishes of sixth or better, including his two wins.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Plain and simple, Charlotte is Kahne's best track. Since 2004, his 11.4 average finish ranks second in the series, and more importantly, he has four wins during the stretch. In his last five starts at Charlotte, Kahne has an impressive 3.4 average finish, winning the 2012 Coca-Cola 600 and finishing second in both races at the track last year.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Although Busch has never won a Cup race at Charlotte, he is no stranger to running near the front at the track. He has four top-five finishes in his last five starts at the track and nine top-five finishes in his last 13 starts at the track. During the stretch, Busch only has two finishes outside the top 10.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
By his standards, he has actually been in a winless drought at Charlotte, but the six-time Charlotte winner has still been getting the job done at the track. He has three finishes of 11th or better in his last four starts at the track and has a pair of top-four finishes during the stretch. Meanwhile, Johnson's five wins at Charlotte since 2004 are the most in the series, and his 11.7 average finish over the same span ranks third.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Kenseth has been one of the more reliable options at Charlotte over the last few seasons. He has reeled off 10-consecutive top-15 finishes at the track, compiling a series-leading 8.5 average finish during the stretch. Kenseth also has three top-five finishes in his last 10 starts at Charlotte (including a win), but his value comes largely from his reliability.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
It is pretty obvious that Hamlin has hit on a setup that he likes at Charlotte in the past few seasons. After all, he has reeled off seven-straight top-10 finishes at the track, posting a 5.7 average finish during the stretch. More importantly, Hamlin has four top-four finishes in those seven starts, including a pair of second-place finishes.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
While he is still looking for a win at Charlotte, it is tough to complain about Edwards' results at the track. He has an 11.8 average finish in 18 starts, and he has only finished worse than 16th on two occasions. In fact, Edwards has reeled off eight straight finishes of 16th or better at Charlotte, including five-consecutive finishes of 11th or better.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon has actually been a little up and down at Charlotte recently. Over the past two years, he has two finishes outside the top 15 to go along with two seventh-place finishes. However, Gordon has been too strong at the 1.5-mile tracks this season to overlook this weekend. He won at Kansas last weekend, and his 4.0 average finish in three races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014 ranks second in the series.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
His move to Michael Waltrip Racing has benefited Bowyer at several tracks, especially Charlotte. In four starts at the track with MWR, he compiled an 8.3 average finish. Bowyer has finished in the top 15 in all four starts during the stretch, reeling off three-straight finishes off 11th or better and winning at Charlotte in the fall of 2012.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
He broke through and won at Charlotte for the first time in his career last fall, and the victory was just part of a recent hot stretch at the track. Keselowski has finished 11th or better in three of his last four starts at Charlotte, picking up a pair of top-five finishes. For his career, he has failed to crack the top 20 in just two of his nine starts at the track.
Kurt Busch, #41 Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Busch has run hot and cold at Charlotte throughout his career, but his upside is undeniable. In his last nine starts at the track, he has six top-15 finishes (including three top-five finishes). While there are some concerns that Busch's decision to run the Indianapolis 500 will prevent him from getting to the start of the Coca-Cola 600 on time, it is a risk owners may want to take. After all, he won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2010, finished fourth in the event in 2011 and finished third last year.