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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 the 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 set of tracks with the most similarity 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 23, at 3:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday, May 25, at 10 a.m. EDT, 1:00 pm ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
Edwards captured the pole for the All-Star Race but did not lead a lap and finished 10th in a field of 22 drivers. In the points races at CMS, he's finished inside the top 10 in three straight starts and hasn't finished outside the top 20 since 2009. Edwards is riding a streak of three finishes of seventh or better and has done so a total of seven times in 11 starts this season.
Of his 15 career victories, Kahne has won four times at Charlotte and three more at Atlanta and Texas combined. Over the last three CMS races, Kahne has finished eighth or better, with more than 90 percent of the laps spent in the top 15 each time, highlighted by a victory in last year's Coca-Cola 600.
A runner-up performance at Kansas Speedway saw Kahne peak at second in points, but he's coming off an early crash at Talladega Superspeedway and a spoiled run two weeks ago at Darlington Raceway.
A transmission problem halted Keselowski's run in the All-Star Race before it ever really began. It was particularly disappointing given last year's runner-up performance that saw the Blue Deuce pace 20 of the 90 laps. Keselowski would then finish a career-best fifth in the Coca-Cola 600 but ran much better in the fall. He led a race-high 139 circuits but finished one lap down in 11th after running out of gas with 58 laps to go.
Since the fall of 2007, Busch has finished eighth or better in 10 of the 11 Charlotte races, with six podium finishes and eight top-fives. Last year Rowdy held an average running position of fifth in each event and spent all but five laps between the two running in the top 15. Busch was outright dominant at Darlington en route to his third victory of the season but lost a tire late in the race, settling for sixth.
Almirola was the surprise pole winner of last year's Coca-Cola 600. In his first career start at CMS, he would lead a total of three laps, record an average running position of 12th and finish 16th. He would return in the fall and place 12th and spent 92.5 percent of the race running in the top 15. Almirola has already matched last year's four top-10s, including a seventh-place run at Texas.
Since 2010, Harvick has finished 11th or better in all six races at Charlotte, with an average running position of at least 15th each time out. He won the 2011 edition of this race as Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final lap. After weeks of underachieving with bad pit calls late in the race, Harvick broke through with a victory at Richmond International Raceway and is coming off a fifth-place performance at Darlington.
In six career starts at Charlotte, Logano has finished 13th or better on seven occasions with five top-10s. One of the three top-five finishes Logano has compiled this season came at the similarly configured track at Texas. Logano had to start that race from the rear of the field due to an engine change and kept digging in a workmanlike performance.
Since the fall of 2010, Hamlin has recorded five straight top-10s at Charlotte, with an average running position to match. He was particularly sharp last year in two runner-up performances, spending the entire fall race running in the top 15 with a career-high average running position of fourth. After missing four full races with a back injury, Hamlin ran the entire Darlington race and finished a season-high second.
Temper your expectations
The April race at Texas marked Newman's first top-10 finish at the site since the spring of 2008. At Charlotte he's been a little better but has finished 20th or worse in three of the last five. Newman owns five top-10s this season but has yet to record an average running position better than 14th in any race thus far.
Last year at Charlotte, Martin had a sound run in the spring spoiled by a blown engine but rebounded in the fall with a sixth-place finish. Things haven't gone smoothly for Martin this season, with four finishes outside the top 20 in nine appearances. He was a mediocre driver at Texas, with a 14th-place finish and an average running position of 17th.
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