Fantasy NASCAR preview: Coca-Cola 600
Considered one of the "majors" in NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest Sprint Cup Series race on the schedule. With the longer format, endurance is key for the drivers behind the wheel and the equipment in which they are piloting. Charlotte Motor Speedway, formerly known as Lowe's Motor Speedway, is one of three 1.5-mile quad-oval tracks that feature 24-degree corner banking. Thankfully for fantasy owners, the other two, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, have already held their first two events of the season.
Location: Concord, N.C.
Drivers to keep an eye on
For the Biff, Charlotte has been a site of a feast or famine over the last two years. In 2008, Biffle started fourth and finished as the runner-up in the spring race. The following fall, Biffle lined up third and finished seventh. He led a total of 18 laps in those two races, while spending at least 85.3 percent of his laps in the top 15. Last year at Charlotte was a struggle, finishing 20th and 16th. Intermediate tracks have been kind to Biffle thus far in 2010; he is only one of four drivers to finish in the top 10 in both of those races. Coming off a sixth-place finish at Dover International Raceway, Biffle should be able to provide a similar performance.
Since 2006, the older Busch brother has only two top-10 finishes and just three top-20 finishes at Charlotte. Winning the All-Star Race is just a small reason to ignore his lackluster history at the site. Over the last three races at Charlotte, Busch has spent more than 81 percent of his laps running in the top 15. Busch has held an average running position of 13th or better in six straight races at the site, indicating bad luck has played a part in his struggles. Earlier this season, Busch dominated the race at Atlanta and finished fourth at Texas. As one of only two drivers to finish in the top five in both of those events, Busch makes the short list of elite options for this weekend's race.
The winner of last year's Coca-Cola 600 did so by staying out to catch the rain that ended the race early. Still, Reutimann didn't win by sheer luck. Reutimann held an average running position of 12th and spent 89.0 percent of the race running in the top 15. In the fall race at Charlotte, Reutimann finished 15th. Last year, Reutimann had the seventh-best average finish (13.2) at the three similar 1.5-mile tracks. So far this season, Reutimann suffered DNFs due to mechanical failure at both at Atlanta and Texas, which could be a concern with the extended length of this event. However, Reutimann has gone four straight races without an issue, finishing 15th or better with one top-five in that span. Reutimann is the defending race winner, solid on these types of tracks and now safe to start; make the double zero your middle-tier selection.
On the season, Kahne has only top-five finishes. Since they were at Atlanta and Texas, this is the week to get Kahne back in your lineup. Even though he has not finished better than 20th in four straight starts, Kahne was running very well at Dover, leading 24 laps. Then, the gear shifter, of all things, broke out of the gearbox and caused him to stall on pit road, costing Kahne a bunch of spots trying to get the car fired again. Over his career, intermediate tracks have been Kahne's bread and butter. In his last eight starts at the site, Kahne has three wins and only one finish worse than eighth. Assuming the car is put together properly, Kahne should challenge once again at Charlotte.
Among bottom-tier drivers, Allmendinger is typically the most trusted. With an average finish of 27.3 and only one top-15 at Charlotte, some may steer away from Allmendinger this week. Bad move. Allmendinger's best finish of the season, sixth, came at the similarly configured track at Atlanta. At Texas, he finished 13th. Allmendinger has never spent more than 16.6 percent of the race running the top 15 at Charlotte. Allmendinger spent a season-high 80.1 percent of the Atlanta race in the top 15 and 27.5 percent of the Texas race. Despite numerous errors in the pits, Allmendinger still managed to finish 14th at Dover. Assuming they have worked it out, a better finish should be in store for Allmendinger this week.
Temper your expectations
Through 12 races this season, Edwards had 10 finishes in the top 15. The only two tracks in which Edwards failed to record such a finish were Atlanta and Texas. An intentional retaliatory wreck of Brad Keselowski resulted in Edwards being parked at Atlanta, while a crash ended his day early at Texas. In his first trips to Atlanta, Texas and Charlotte last year, Edwards left with two top-fives and a top-10. The second time around, he finished 37th or worse on all three tracks. In the last two spring races at Charlotte, Edwards has a top-10 and a top-five. His fall finishes have been dashed by running out of gas and a DNF due to an engine problem. Spring time may be the right time for Edwards, but the inconsistent body of work is worrisome.
A four-time winner at Charlotte, the most recent in 2002, Martin has not been as sharp at the site in recent years. Despite excellent starting position, Martin finished 17th in both races at Charlotte last year. Since 2006, Martin has only one top-10 finish at Charlotte and an average finish of 14.2. Earlier this season, Martin crashed at Atlanta and finished sixth at Texas, with an average running position of only 19th. In 10 straight races at Charlotte, Martin has held an average running position of 15th or better. It could be a good race for Martin, but it's unlikely to be a great one.
Over the last two years at Charlotte, Stewart has been running 11th or better at the midway point. Despite an average running position that has been no worse than 14th in those four races, Stewart's finishes have ranged from 11th to 19th. Earlier this season, Stewart finished 13th at Atlanta and wrecked at Texas. In that race, Smoke held an average running position of sixth and spent 94 percent of the race in the top 15. At Dover, Stewart finished ninth to end a streak of six straight finishes of 16th or worse. Stewart's combination of bad luck at Charlotte and at Texas suggests it might be best to stay in a holding pattern for now.
The spring race at Charlotte has been something of a challenge for Bowyer. Starting position has been poor, 39th and 24th; the finishes have been bad, 25th and 36th. Bowyer's average running position in each of those races was 33rd, compared to the average of eighth he ran in both of the last two fall races. In those late-season events, Bowyer spent at least 92.8 percent of his laps running in the top 15. In spring starts, he has zero such laps in the spring. Bowyer has been the unlucky one in the RCR stable this season, the bad spring numbers at Charlotte don't suggest that will change this week.
In three straight starts at Charlotte, Earnhardt has failed to finish on the lead lap. Last year was particularly bad, holding an average running position of 37th in each race and never running higher than 17th. On the flip side, Earnhardt finished 15th at Atlanta and eighth at Texas earlier this season. Inconsistency has been Earnhardt's issue for a while, so it's hard to assume that success will carry over into Charlotte.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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