NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Top 5 favorites/preview for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600

TRACK: Charlotte Motor Speedway – (1.5-mile oval) DISTANCE: 400 Laps – Stage 1: 100 Laps, Stage 2: 100 Laps, Stage 3: 100 Laps, Final Stage: 100 Laps, 600 Miles

Favorites – Toyota’s The Ones To Beat?

Martin Truex Jr. (+400)

Truex, has won two of the last five Coke 600’s and was second in another. In fact, he has five straight top six finishes in this race overall. He led 116 laps in his 2019 win. In fact, he’s dominated Charlotte’s oval lately with laps led of 131, 0, 392, 0, 233, 91, 0, 116, 87 and zero in his last 10 starts there.

Chase Elliott (+550)

At Charlotte, Elliott has three top four finishes in his last four Coke 600 tries. If not for a late caution last year, he would have won the ‘600. He rebounded and won the second oval race a few days later.

Kyle Busch (+600)

In his last six Coke 600 starts, he’s scored five top six finishes including four of his last five being a top four result. He won this race in 2018 and has led one lap, 63 laps, 22 laps, 377 laps, 79 laps and no laps respectively in his last seven Charlotte oval starts.

Denny Hamlin (+850)

Hamlin, has four top five finishes in his last six Charlotte oval starts including eight top 10’s there in his last 11 tries.


Preview

The Toyota’s have bar none been the best at Charlotte in recent years. They’ve won four of the last six Coke 600’s and three of the last five on the oval overall. The question is, was 2020 the start of their fall on the 1.5-mile North Carolina race track?

A Ford in Brad Keselowski won the ‘600 last May while Chevrolet in Chase Elliott won the second oval race a few days later. The Toyota’s paled in comparison last year to the years past.

So far this season, they’ve been solid but not dominant on 550 tracks too.

Denny Hamlin has a top five in half of the four races run on 550 tracks. He’s also had four top fives in his last six Charlotte oval starts too. Kyle Busch has 4 top 10’s and a a trio of top fives, including a win in four 550 races in 2021 to go along with five top six results in his last seven Charlotte oval tries. Martin Truex Jr. has similar stats at Busch on 550’s and has been the most dominant for the Toyota grouping at Charlotte lately too.

The thing is, they were 4-6-29 in the ‘600 with all 87 combined laps led by Truex Jr. and 2-9-29 in the second race.

Also, while Team Penske should be ones to pick then, as they’ve been so strong to start this season off with, but what if I told you that they historically struggle in this race. Joey Logano may have finished runner-up in 2019 but that’s his only top five over his last eight Charlotte oval starts. Actually, four of his last seven Charlotte oval starts have resulted in a finish of 21st or worse. On 550 tracks, Logano has finished 25th, ninth, 15th and 17th respectively this year.

His teammate Brad Keselowski was fourth in 2018 and stole a win last year, but has three of his last six finishes being 39th, 15th and 19th respectively too. He’s been 16th, 2nd, 28th and third respectively himself on 550 tracks in 2021 too.

That leaves Ryan Blaney. He has one top five finish in 10 career Charlotte oval starts and was 13th or worse in eight of those 10 tries. He’s been the best on 550 tracks among his teammates though with two top fives in four starts in which should have been three if not for contact in overtime at Kansas from Kyle Larson.

SHR could be the tops among the Ford camp but they’ve struggled all season too. Their best 550 track finish is second and 5th by Kevin Harvick in Kansas and Homestead. The team overall has combined for just three top 10’s in four races on them this season, all coming from his No. 4 Ford. Are they ready to take the jump up yet?

That’s why this could be handed to Hendrick Motorsports. They’ve been quick on 550 tracks and have been really good at Charlotte lately. Elliott, has three straight top four finishes including four of his last five overall on the Charlotte oval. William Byron was ninth in this race in 2019 while Alex Bowman has two top 10’s in his last four. Kyle Larson has three top fives in four starts on 550 tracks and the only reason it’s not four-for-four is because he crashed out in overtime at Kansas after leading the most laps. Byron, has a top 10 in all of them too. Bowman has two top 10’s in four tries himself.

Another thing to watch is that starting position hasn’t mattered much lately in the ‘600 mile race. Six of the last seven race winners on the oval have come from a starting spot outside of ninth or worse.

This race is the last of a five week stretch this month. Next month, you get a road course (Sonoma), the All-Star Race (Texas), an inaugural race at Nashville followed by a doubleheader at Pocono to close out the month.

Really, between now and Aug. 22, eight of the nine race weekends feature the first and only trip to these tracks. Atlanta (July 11) is the only repeat track. Plus, among this final 12 race stretch of the regular season, we have a first time race, four road courses, a superspeedway and three really stand alone races in the sense of a doubleheader at Pocono and a race at Michigan.

With 11 race winners already this season, we could see some more wild trips to victory lane between now and Labor Day weekend.


Of Note

We’ve seen 14 different winners in the last 21 races on intermediates including 11 of the last 12.

It all started nearly two years ago, on June 30, 2019 at the Chicagoland Speedway to be exact, with Alex Bowman. Then, Kentucky Speedway (Kurt Busch), Las Vegas in the Fall (Martin Truex Jr), Kansas (Denny Hamlin), Texas (Kevin Harvick) and Homestead (Kyle Busch) to close out the season.

Last year, we had Las Vegas (Joey Logano), Charlotte (Brad Keselowski/Chase Elliott), Atlanta (Harvick), Homestead (Denny Hamlin), Kentucky (Cole Custer), Texas (Austin Dillon), Kansas (Brad Keselowski), Vegas (Kurt Busch), Kansas (Joey Logano) and Texas (Kyle Busch) following suit.

So far, we’ve had four 1.5-mile tracks in 2021. One occurred in Homestead. William Byron won. The next was in Las Vegas with Kyle Larson. After that it was coming in Atlanta. Ryan Blaney won that event. Then we had Kansas to start this month with Kyle Busch being victorious. He’s the only repeat winner since this point a year ago.

We’re running out of names to keep this going? All that’s left on the big teams not on this list are Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, or Aric Almirola. If we want to keep the streak going to 13 of the last 14, then you can have someone like Truex Jr. or Bell with JGR, Bowman for HMS or the duo at SHR.


Key Stat

The last 2 Coca-Cola 600’s have seen the winner of the 2nd stage finish 19th. In fact, the 2020 and 2019 Coke 600’s saw Alex Bowman win Stages 1 and 2 in 2020 and Brad Keselowski in 2019. They didn’t win the race outright in the end.

Other than Kyle Busch sweeping all 3 stages in 2018, just one other time did the winner of the ‘600 end up winning a stage.

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