The Left Turn
NASCAR Coca Cola 600 preview
This Sunday, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Charlotte Motor Speedway for the famed Coca Cola 600. This is race is one of the “Crown Jewels” on the schedule and is always one of the more anticipated races of the season. NASCAR’s field of 40 will do battle for a grueling 400 laps which equals out to of course 600 miles.
Last week, NASCAR decided to take a different approach for the non-points paying All-Star race. The cars came equipped with a smaller spoiler on the decklid and the ever polarizing restrictor plate. Overall the race was met by critical acclaim from all groups of people that cover and watch the sport as the modifications and rule changes brought a whole new element to a race that had become tedious to some. While the cars were much closer together and there was more passing and battles for position, at the end of the night Kevin Harvick was able to continue his run and take his sixth victory of the season
This week we snap back into reality. All of the cars will go back to the regular aero package that they have been running all season. The racing that we see this week at Charlotte will be drastically different than what we saw at the all-star race as the cars will be much faster and more spread out. Thanks to its length, fuel should play a big factor in determining the outcome as well. In fact, last year’s Coca Cola 600 saw Austin Dillon claim his first career victory after Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas with two laps remaining. This race is so long that almost every year it comes down to who can go the longest on a tank of fuel and you can almost bet that we will see the same thing this year. Look for the driver who can somehow save the most amount of fuel to go to victory lane at the end of the night.
Some of the favorites going into this week are all four drivers at Joe Gibbs racing. On Thursday, the Gibbs team makes up for three of the first four starting spots with Kyle Busch qualifying first, Denny Hamlin third and Erik Jones fourth. While Gibbs and his team have been Kevin Harvick’s main competition this season, the only driver that has won has been Kyle Busch. Earlier in the season, he was able to win three consecutive races at Texas, Bristol and Richmond. This weekend, Busch will try and capture his first Coca Cola 600 victory and he has a better chance than anyone. Even though Charlotte is one of the few tracks he has not won (unless you count the all-star race last season which is not a points paying event) look for the M&M’s Camry to be a major factor.
The driver that I have going to victory lane this weekend is Denny Hamlin. As I stated earlier in the article, the only driver for Joe Gibbs that has won this season is Kyle Busch and he will definitely be a contender come sunday but this week I just see Hamlin having a breakthrough weekend. Like his teammate, Hamlin has also never won here at Charlotte but he has always been near the top of the charts. In his 25 starts, he has eight top-five’s and 16 top 10s so he has proved that he can run up front here but in the past he just has never quite been able to close the deal. I don’t think this will be the case here, Hamlin has a fast race car from what we have seen in both practice and qualifying. Look for Hamlin to go to victory lane come sunday.
A good sleeper for this race is Jamie McMurray. If you are a fan of the sport, you know that 2018 has been the worst season of McMurray’s career. He is currently 24th in points and has only had two lead lap finishes all season, but this weekend McMurray seems to be in prime position to have a bounce back race. He started the weekend off on the right track with a seventh place qualifying effort and is at a track where he has run well at in the past. In fact, if it weren’t for his success at this race track, Jamie Mac might not even be where he is today. In 2002, McMurray captured his first career victory here at the fall race as he was able to hold off a hard charging Bobby Labonte. In his second NASCAR start, McMurray went to victory lane. Look for McMurray to try and rekindle that magic come sunday in the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet.
(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).