Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Coca-Cola 600

by Eric McClung on May 23, 2012 @ 17:48:01 PDT


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 past performance 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.

Practice sessions: Thursday, May 24 at 3:30 pm ET, Saturday, May 26 at 10:00 am ET, 1:00 pm ET
Qualifying: Thursday, May 24 at 7:00 pm ET
Race: Sunday, May 27 at 5:30 pm ET
Location: Concord, N.C.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Laps: 400
Turns: 24 degrees
Front stretch: 5 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Fastenal/NASCAR Unites Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Since 2008, Kenseth has registered six top-10s in eight starts at Charlotte and won the fall race last year. In fact, Kenseth owned the best average running position in each of the 2011 races at CMS. After winning the spring race last year at Texas, Kenseth finished fifth this season in a race won by teammate Greg Biffle. With half a dozen finishes of sixth or better in his last eight races of the season - in addition to a third-place finish in last week's All-Star Race - Kenseth has everything going for him right now.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's/NASCAR Unites Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

While Johnson has won six Charlotte races in his career, only one has come since 2006 and last year saw him end each race early with DNFs. But don't be fooled into believing this is a slump. In the aforementioned time frame, Johnson has held an average running position of 11th or better in 11 of those 12 races and leads all drivers with a career average running position of 8.4, nearly two spots higher than the next driver. Earlier in the season, Johnson finished second at Texas, leading a race-high 156 laps.

Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Red, White & Blue Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Even though Busch owns the best average finish at Charlotte since 2007, he's yet to win a race at the site. In that span he owns eight finishes of eighth or better in 10 starts and was the runner-up in each of the last two fall races. Busch qualified on the pole for the All-Star race and finished fourth. With an average of 104.8 laps led in the last four CMS races, expect Rowdy to jump out front and stay there en route to another strong performance.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Dollar General Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Coming off a 10th-place run at Darlington, Logano will look to continue to an impressive streak of finishes at Charlotte. In six career starts at the site, he's never finished worse than 13th and owns a pair of top-fives, including a third in last year's Coke 600 after starting 23rd. While not the most consistent driver this season, Jo-Lo should be monitored throughout practice and qualifying as a very legitimate sleeper option.

Kyle Busch

Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Starting with a seventh-place finish at Texas, Kahne has strung together five straight top-10s. He's also been excellent in qualifying, capturing two poles and starting no worse than 10th in the last nine races. Kahne has won three times at CMS, most recently in 2008, and finished fourth last fall. With his abysmal start to 2012 rapidly becoming a distant memory, Kahne is poised to capitalize on what is statistically his very best track.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Last year at CMS, Allmendinger was one of only three drivers to finish both races inside the top 10. In the spring he qualified on the outside pole and finished fifth. In the fall he started fourth and ended the day in seventh. Last week, Allmendinger captured the pole for the Sprint Showdown and rallied from an early flat tire to finish as the runner-up and transfer to the All-Star race. Still in search of his second top-10 finish of 2012, Dinger has a good chance of doing just that this week.

Mark Martin | No. 55 Aaron's Armed Forces Foundation Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

While Martin only managed a single top-10 in his three years as a driver with Hendrick, he's been very solid this season as a part-time driver at MWR. In only eight starts, Martin is currently 23rd in points and ahead of 10 drivers that have competed in all 11 races, including big names like Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch. Earlier in the season, Martin finished fourth at Texas while teammate Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth, which bodes well for MWR's chances for a repeat performance at Charlotte.

Trevor Bayne | No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford | Wood Brother Racing

In his first career Cup start at CMS last October, Bayne started 10th and finished 31st with an average running position of 16th. The poor result came after running out of fuel, spoiling a possible top-10 performance. Bayne has made four starts this season and has earned a pair of top-10 finishes but was 28th at Texas after hitting the wall early prior to developing an oil leak. There is risk involved but Bayne is among the best bottom-tier drivers to select from.

Temper your expectations

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

While Keselowski has proved capable of pulling out a win on any track regardless of past struggles, he'll have a lot of work to do at Charlotte. In two years as a Penske driver, Keselowski is without a top-15 in four starts. Keselowski did win a segment in the All-Star race and finished as the runner-up but is a chancy option given his elite driver status in most formats.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

A fourth-place finish at Texas is somewhat encouraging for Gordon, who has finished 20th or worse in three straight CMS starts. However, the bulk of his season has been a complete nightmare with only three finishes on the lead lap. When Gordon hasn't experienced equipment problems he's been involved in crashes caused by other drivers. Until this dark cloud passes over Gordon, he's a driver to avoid.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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