Fantasy NASCAR preview: Coca-Cola 600

by C.J. Radune on May 20, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule. As a result, engine wear at Lowe's Motor Speedway is a chief concern. Aggressive setups often don't play well on this track and a more neutral setup is favorable. If a car is too tight, it can result in increased 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 in allowing drivers to use the gas to keep their speed up. Passing occurs all over the track. Drivers have the option of outdriving their opponent into the corner or making a run coming out of the corner and passing them in the straightaway. Turn 4 sees the most incidents as the track gets very narrow at that point. The teams that can keep a neutral car through the early stages of the race and then start tuning it for speed at night will be in a good position to challenge for the victory of this marathon night.

Location: Concord, N.C.
Shape: Quad-oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Laps: 400
Turns 1-2: 24 degrees

Turns 3-4: 24 degrees
Front stretch: 5 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Last season saw Kahne sweep nearly all of the events at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He finished fifth in the Sprint Showdown, was voted into the All-Star race and then won it. He then won the Coca-Cola 600 just a week later, and finished second in the Bank of America 500 in the next trip to the speedway five months later. Kahne and the Richard Petty Motorsports cars have traditionally performed very well at the Charlotte track and Kahne is usually the one leading the pack. Kahne's showing in this year's All-Star event wasn't fantastic and the past few races have been rough for him as well. If Kahne could turn the season around at any track, Lowe's would be the one.

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Burton won the last points race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the Bank of America 500. In last year's Coca-Cola 600 he took home a top-10 finish, too. Impressively, in 20 career starts at the track Burton has taken home three wins, six top-fives and 11 top-10s. His average finish in those starts is 12.9. Don't hinge your views of Burton on his All-Star performance of 20th. Richard Childress Racing struggled throughout that event and Burton's night was ended early because of engine problems. Things should return to normal for the former Coca-Cola 600 this weekend meaning Burton should be a contender.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Even though Matt Kenseth was the leader of the Roush Fenway Racing stable in last weekend's All-Star race, Edwards came home a solid fifth. In last year's Coca-Cola 600 Edwards finished ninth. He finished 15th in 2007 and third in 2006. Edwards has proven that he can make his equipment last the distance. While Edwards has never won at Lowe's Motor Speedway, he has only finished outside of the top 10 twice in points races. Edwards has been struggling as of late and could really use the momentum from a strong finish in NASCAR's longest race. Look for Edwards to endure the distance and place strongly.

Bobby Labonte | No. 96 Ask.com Ford | Hall of Fame-Yates Racing

In the last six of all Sprint Cup events at Lowe's Motor Speedway Labonte has been the picture of consistency. He has never entered the top 10, but has never finished lower than 17th, either. His average finish in that span is 12.7. That average finish is better than some drivers' averages that scored wins in the same period. Labonte, while not the fastest, certainly looks like a safe pick in just about any race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Labonte scored his first top-20 finish in five races in the Southern 500 which could signal a return to the consistency we have come to expect from the Texan. Fantasy owners could reasonably expect a top-15 from Labonte this weekend.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin finished fourth in last weekend's Sprint Cup All-Star Race. It was a strong showing from the Toyota driver. Earlier in his career, Hamlin had Lowe's Motor Speedway figured out. He scored one top-five and three top-10s in his first three outings at the track. In total he has earned three top-10s from seven career points races there. From the past three Coca-Cola 600 races Hamlin has a pair of ninth-place finishes and a 24th. Hamlin has struggled a bit in those last three races, but he may have turned his trajectory around with his strong showing in the All-Star race.

Temper your expectations

David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Ragan hasn't finished in the top 10 since the Daytona 500. His results have been very disappointing for a driver who had such high expectations coming into the season, especially with a big sponsor like UPS. He finished 12th in last year's Coca-Cola 600 and 10th in the 2008 Bank of America 500. Unfortunately those two results shouldn't make fantasy players overlook the past 10 races this season which have only produced a best finish of 12th for the young driver. Be wary of Ragan's performances this year. There haven't been many signs to show that he would be able to overcome those struggles this weekend.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Newman looked like he could have won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, but unfortunately was taken out of contention by hard racing between three aggressive drivers. Newman has put in some strong showings leading up to the All-Star break including three top-five finishes. Unfortunately Newman's record in points races at Lowe's Motor Speedway aren't similar to how he has been running lately. In 16 points races at the track he has scored just an average finish of 21.9. While current trends may indicate that Newman could overcome those results, be careful when choosing him.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Busch is another driver who challenged for the win in the All-Star Race. The Penske cars were all strong on the night and Busch was no exception. He finished 16th in last year's Coca-Cola 600 and third in the 2008 Bank of America 500. From 18 career points races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Busch has scored three top-fives and three top-10s. His average finish in that time is not attention grabbing, though, at just 22.1. While the Penske cars had a strong showing last weekend, it might be too much to expect the same over 600 miles this weekend. Busch is solid, but just doesn't exhibit the spark that would make him a top choice this weekend.

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 R+L Carriers Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Kenseth spent a lot of the All-Star Race challenging for the lead but was never the stand-out. In the end he was passed by Tony Stewart and lacked the speed to truly challenge him. Kenseth finished 10th in the Southern 500 and that should give him some good momentum heading into the Coca-Cola 600. He finished seventh in last year's Coca-Cola 600, one of his eight top-10 finishes in 19 points races at Lowe's Motor Speedway. His average finish at the track isn't bad, 16.6, but he didn't show the speed that the other teams demonstrated last weekend. He might have to rely on strategy alone to score a top finish in the Coca-Cola 600.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Gordon must feel hard done by after being involved in an incident that took him out of a potential All-Star win last weekend. He comes to Lowe's Motor Speedway on the heels of two straight top-10 finishes though. To boot, Gordon scored a top-five and a top-10 in last year's two races at the speedway. He even won the Bank of America 500 in 2007. Obviously, Gordon is not a driver to sit. Unfortunately though fantasy owners should make sure they also start another top performer as Gordon has a tendency to run into trouble at Lowe's. Half of his points races at Lowe's Motor Speedway have resulted in a DNF.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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