Coca-Cola 600 Fantasy NASCAR Preview
by C.J. Radune
on May 22, 2008 @ 09:20:02
Lowe's Motor Speedway hosts more miles of racing - 1,100 miles in two races - than any other track in the Sprint Cup. As a result, engine wear is a chief concern. Aggressive setups often don't play well on this track, and a more neutral setup is more favorable. If a car is too tight, it can result in too much push, forcing drivers out of the throttle and causing the car to lose momentum in the straightaways. Since the turns are long, downforce is important to allow drivers to use the gas to keep their speed up. Passing occurs all over the track. Drivers have the option of out-driving their opponents into the corner or getting a run coming out of the corner and passing them in the straightaway. The track gets very narrow coming out of Turn 4, which is where most incidents occur.
In the Sprint All-Star Race, the teams pushed the bodies of the cars as far askew as they could, making the cars "crab walk" to generate downforce, enabling better handling in traffic. It is possible that NASCAR could introduce a rule limiting the amount of "crab walking" a team can set their car up with prior to the Coca-Cola 600. With engine wear already a concern through the 600-mile race, handling may become an even more important topic if that rule is implemented.
Location: Concord, N.C.
Length: 1.50 miles
Banking: Turns 1-4 24 degrees; front and back stretch 5 degrees
Leading the pack
Johnson is sixth in Cup points and is coming off a fourth-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Since his win in the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Johnson hasn't been finishing very well. He has two 13th-place finishes along with a 30th-place finish in his last three races. However, Johnson has been dominant at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In 13 career starts, he has two poles, five wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s. He finished the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 in 10th place and finished 14th in the '07 Bank of America 500 - two of his least impressive performances at the track. Despite his slightly dipping form, Johnson is a solid choice for any fantasy lineup.
Three very impressive finishes - two wins and one second-place finish - in his past three races have propelled Busch to the top of the Cup points standings. At Lowe's, Busch was also dominating the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race before engine troubles forced him to retire 50 laps early. Despite his strong performance in the All-Star Race, Busch's record at Lowe's is not good. In eight career starts, he has just one top-five and two top-10 results. His average start at the track is 20th, while his average finish is 25.9. At Lowe's, Busch has the second highest driver rating (94.3) and the highest percentage of quality passes (76.2) in the last six races. He is a solid option.
In eight starts this season, Martin has two top-fives and four top-10s. Martin has done a great job driving on a part-time schedule, lending his experience to help develop the Car of Tomorrow and to prepare Aric Almirola to take over. In 18 starts at Lowe's, Martin has one win, seven top-fives and eight top-10s. The nostalgic fans will be hoping Martin can pickup a win before he finally decides to end his career, and with his '08 performances, that win may come this season. Martin has picked up his intensity on the track in his last four races, where he has two top-fives and another top-10. He is a solid option to finish in or around the top 10.
Kahne was the fan favorite in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which he ultimately ended up winning. That win could give Gillett Evernham Motorsports the confidence it needs to take another step forward in performance. The 2008 season has been better for Kahne than the prior year, but the respectable finishes aren't what the team wants. They want wins. Kahne has two wins, two top-fives and three top-10s in eight career starts at Lowe's. Outside of his All-Star Race victory, Kahne has managed just one top-10 in his last six races. However, Kahne has led the most laps (338) in the past six races at Lowe's and is a viable option for the Coca-Cola 600.
Edwards has been having a great season so far. Three wins, five top-fives and seven top-10s have put Edwards seventh in Cup points. Edwards does not have a good starting average in six career starts at Lowe's (21.2), but he has finished well in those races with an average finish of 7.3. Edwards has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six starts this season and in six career starts at Lowe's. It is hard not to include Edwards, who finished in the top 10 in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, on your fantasy roster this weekend. He could be in line for another top-five or top-10 finish in the Coca-Cola 600.
Drivers to keep an eye on
A disappointing season may be at the start of a turnaround for Kenseth. He finished sixth in the Dodge Challenger 500 - his best finish since February's Auto Club 500 - and third in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. At Lowe's, Kenseth has been good except for his DNFs. He has one win, five top-fives and seven top-10s in 17 career starts at the track, but he has also failed to finish five times. It will be interesting to see if Kenseth can start performing as well as his teammates Edwards and Greg Biffle, and it appears he is on the right track. Kenseth has led a lap in his last four starts at Lowe's and could be a decent option for the Coca-Cola 600.
Earnhardt looked like he had a good shot to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. He led 14 laps and ultimately finished eighth after he decided to pit for four tires versus two like the top finishers. Earnhardt has one win at Lowe's, but it came in 2000 and it wasn't a points race. In 17 career starts at the track, he has four top-fives, eight top-10s and four DNFs. Earnhardt has been knocking on the door of his first win for Hendrick Motorsports all season. However, he has only two top-10 finishes in his last six starts at Lowe's. The team learned how to make the car handle in the cool night during the All-Star race, which could help him pickup a win in the Coca-Cola 600.
Gordon has had some awful luck at Lowe's. In 18 career starts at the track, he has failed to finish nine times. Amazingly, he has two wins, six top-fives and eight top-10s in the nine starts he finished. He is currently 10th in Cup points and has been having a pretty respectable season. After he won the 2007 Bank of America 500, Gordon could be a solid driver to have on a fantasy roster for the Coca-Cola 600. He has three DNFs so far this year and that total could rise to four, but if he is able to make it to the end, he could finish in the top 10 for the sixth time in 2008.
Biffle is another driver who has been very close to a win in the first 11 races of the season. He was running strong in the Sprint All-Star Race and finished second to Kahne. Unfortunately for Biffle, like Gordon, he has failed to finish half of his 10 career starts at Lowe's. His last three starts at the track have been absolutely horrific with his best finish (27th) coming in the 2007 Bank of America 500. Biffle led 11 of the 100 laps in the All-Star Race and could be a strong contender in the Coca-Cola 600 despite his recent record at the track.
Burton is second in Cup points with one win, three top-fives and seven top-10s in the first 11 races. He was never a contender in the Sprint All-Star Race and ultimately finished 20th. In 18 career starts at Lowe's, he has two wins, five top-fives and nine top-10s. His number of DNFs is a little better than some of the other drivers with only five, but none have been since the 2002 Coca-Cola Racing Family 600. Burton has been strong at most tracks this season; since his move to the team in 2004, he has three top-fives and four top-10s at Lowe's. Given Burton's recent form, he could be a strong contender again in the Coca-Cola 600.
About C.J. Radune
Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.
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