"Sliced Bread" hot at Charlotte
Leading up to Sunday's Coca-Cola, the biggest storyline has been Kurt Busch's attempt to run both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. However, Saturday's practice sessions at the 1.5-mile brought even more headlines. In the opening practice, Jeff Gordon was forced to exit the car after just 11 laps because of back spasms.
He is expected to start the race Sunday, but he has a backup driver on hand and isn't a lock to finish the entire race. In the final practice, Kyle Busch turned the fastest lap of any driver, but he slammed the outside wall shortly after and will have to start at the rear of the field in a backup car.
The Coca-Cola 600 is already one of the tougher races to prepare for because of the fact that drivers practice during the day but will run a good portion of the race at night, and the pre-race drama surrounding several big names doesn't make things any easier for fantasy owners. Not to mention that with 600 miles of racing still to come, there is a good chance the action is just getting started at Charlotte.
The top 3
1) Kevin Harvick
Harvick slides into the top spot in the final rankings thanks in part to an 11th-place effort in qualifying Thursday and solid practice times Saturday. He also enters Sunday's race with a 7.1 average finish in the last eight races at Charlotte, and more importantly, he won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2011 and 2013. You should feel confident building your fantasy team around him this weekend.
2) Jimmie Johnson
Even though Johnson has been performing below his typical standards in 2014, it looks like he might break out of his funk in a big way this weekend at Charlotte. He will be starting on the pole for the first time this season at a track where he is a six-time winner. He also posted strong practice times in both sessions Saturday. Meanwhile, Johnson's 11.6 average finish at the track is the third best among active drivers, and since 2005, his 111.1 driver rating is tops in the series.
3) Joey Logano
Logano has been the driver to beat at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and it doesn't seem like that will change much this weekend. After qualifying in the top 10 Thursday, he turned the second-fast lap in Happy Hour Saturday. Logano enters Sunday's race with a series-leading 10.4 average finish at Charlotte and a series-leading 3.0 average finish at 1.5-mile ovals in 2014. A top-five finish seems like a safe bet.
14) Ryan Newman
Despite a miserable 42nd-place effort in qualifying, Newman still looks like a useful fantasy option this weekend. In race trim, he cracked the top 10 in both practices Saturday, and he has finished in the top 15 in four of his last five starts at Charlotte. Starting so far back isn't ideal, but Newman will have 600 miles to get to the front with a fast car. He is still worth a roster spot in most formats.
17) Paul Menard
While his 21st-place run in qualifying was great, Menard was solid on longer runs in practice Saturday and has been solid in the Coca-Cola 600 recently. He has three top-15 finishes in his last four starts in the 600-mile event. Menard also owns a 9.7 average finish in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014. He should be a safe bet to finish around the top 15 Sunday.
18) Kyle Larson
His 25th-place run in qualifying was disappointing, but Larson was a top-15 driver in both practices Saturday. Meanwhile, the rookie has been solid at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014, logging a 12.0 average finish in three starts. He was also running in the top 15 in his track debut the track last fall before getting knocked out by a mechanical issue. Larson's love of the high line should pay major dividends at Charlotte, and while the 600-mile race can be tough on young drivers, he has too much upside to ignore.
23) Danica Patrick
It appears that Patrick could be starting to figure out 1.5-mile ovals. After a career-best seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Kansas, she qualified fourth for Sunday's race at Charlotte and practiced in the top five in race trim Saturday. Patrick finished 20th at Charlotte last fall, and she should have a shot at topping that result this weekend. I wouldn't call her a safe pick by any means, but she has some upside.
Big names outside the top 10
12) Jeff Gordon
He has been the second-best driver in the series at 1.5-mile tracks this year and was fast in the first practice Saturday, but unfortunately, Gordon's session was cut short by back spasms. The back issue also caused him to miss Happy Hour entirely, and he will have a relief driver available for Sunday's race. If Gordon's back holds up, he should be a solid top-10 option. However, he gets bumped down some spots in the final rankings because of the uncertainty surrounding his ailing back.
29) Austin Dillon
Dillon has enjoyed a solid rookie year, but Charlotte has been a thorn in his side so far. He really struggled in race trim during the All-Star Race, and he hasn't been any better leading up to Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. Dillon has been buried on the practice charts all weekend, and he will be starting way back in 32nd spot. I could be a long night for the rookie.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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