Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Coca-Cola 600
Following the Sprint Showdown and All-Star races, the Cup series will remain in its home base of North Carolina for another week before returning in mid-October. 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 is one of three 1.5-mile quad-oval tracks that feature 24-degrees of corner banking. In addition to the aforementioned exhibition races, fantasy owners can review results from the other two cookie-cutter venues, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. This trio is the most similar set of tracks on the circuit, hosting a total of five races. Astute fantasy owners can hit a lot of sleeper picks by watching the trends that develop across these sites.
Location: Concord, N.C.
Drivers to keep an eye on
While Edwards has only one top-10 finish at Charlotte in the last four starts he's coming off a win in the All-Star Race and owns a streak of five consecutive top-10s in points-paying races. In fact, he's only finished worse than seventh in two of the 11 races held thus far. That impressive run includes Texas, where Edwards was one of only two drivers to spend the entire race running inside the top 15. Even though Edwards damaged the front end of his winning car during a celebration slide into the grass, crew chief Bob Osborne promises they have an even better car prepped for the Coke 600.
Over the last seven races at Charlotte, Busch has finished eighth or better with five top-fives. In that time, he has spent more than 94 percent of his laps running in the top 15 on five occasions with an average running position that has not dipped below 11th. After qualifying on the pole for the All-Star Race, Busch finished as the runner-up with a car that was quickly gaining on Edwards as the race was winding down. Recently busted for doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone, Busch is looking to land the big check from this race, which should more than cover the ticket.
After posting a series-best 8.5 average finish of 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks last year, Kenseth has already delivered once this season. At Texas, Kenseth won in dominating fashion, leading 169 of 334 laps. At Charlotte, he owns four consecutive top-10s with only two results outside of 14th in 10 starts since 2006. Starting 13th, Kenseth worked his way up to a sixth-place finish in the All-Star Race. In a 600-mile race, Kenseth's proven, steady approach could once again pay dividends regardless of where he qualifies.
Last year at Charlotte, Menard held average running positions of 12th and 15th with an eighth-place finish in the spring race. In six starts across the three 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks last year, he notched three top-10s. That success carried over to a fifth-place finish earlier this season at Texas. Before being shuffled back in the Sprint Showdown, Menard was among the fastest cars in the practice session during the All-Star festivities. A return to an intermediate track is just what Menard needs after his quick start to the season has cooled significantly in recent weeks.
With three wins and an average finish of 13.5 in 14 career starts, Charlotte is Kahne's top track. Since his last victory at the site in the spring of 2008, he owns two top-fives and four finishes of 12th or better in the five starts since. While Kahne only managed a 21st-place finish at Texas, he has a pair of top-fives in the last four races and had a good run going at Dover International Speedway until blowing an engine.
In four starts at Charlotte, Ambrose recorded a career-best 16th-place finish last October. While that alone doesn't register much of a blip on the radar, he improving resume on intermediates certainly does. In six 1.5-mile cookie-cutter starts last year, he registered three finishes of 12th or better and only one finish worse than 17th. Last month, Ambrose finished sixth at Texas with an average running position of seventh. In the Sprint Showdown, the Australian finished third.
During his late-season rebound a year ago, Ragan recorded a pair of top-10s on 1.5-mile cookie cutter tracks, Charlotte and Texas. Since then, he qualified on the pole at Texas this April and finished seventh with an average running position of fifth, third-best among the field. Ragan is coming off a win from the pole in the Sprint Showdown and is a prime selection among bottom-tier drivers this week.
Currently sitting 26th in points, it has been a very disappointing start to the season for Reutimann. However, he rallied from an 18th-place starting position to finish third in the All-Star Race and has an impressive history at Charlotte. Since winning a rain-shortened event in May of 2009, Reutimann has three consecutive top-15 finishes at the site. Last year, he finished fifth and ninth while spending more than 93 percent of the laps running in the top 15 each time.
Temper your expectations
In the last five starts at Charlotte, Earnhardt has managed to finish on the lead lap only once, a 22nd-place finish last May. After finishing sixth in the Sprint Showdown, he was the predictable winner of the fan vote to get into the All-Star Race where he would finish 14th. Although Earnhardt rallied from 28th on the grid to finish ninth at Texas, his car did not handle well in either race over the weekend. Make sure you check his practice results before making a commitment.
The winner of last year's All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600, Busch went on to finish a disappointing 30th in the October event. It's that type of erratic performance that has been an issue for the double deuce this season. After starting the season with four straight top-10s, Busch has only one such result over the last seven starts. While that top-10 came at Texas, which is a positive sign, there is still plenty of risk here, especially given Busch's top-level status in most formats.
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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