The NASCAR Cup Series contests one of its “Crown Jewel” races tonight as it visits Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. The unofficial start of summer racing, 600 miles, 400 laps, and one exhausted winner make up what is the longest race of the season on the weekend where we remember those who passed while serving in the U.S. military. Last year’s edition on the mile and a half oval was won by Denny Hamlin, who survived 18 cautions and held off Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on a late race restart to win the longest race in NASCAR history, with the final count tallying 413 laps run over 619.5 miles, and lasting 5 hours, 13 minutes, and 8 seconds.
Driver to Fade:
Zane Smith may be a stud in the Truck Series, but he has been underwhelming at best driving the 38 car for Front Row Motorsports this year, with a 13th place finish at Daytona being his only top 30 finish in 4 starts this season. Charlotte had a ton of carnage last year and mostly became a race of survival towards the end. If the race goes that route, Smith has a chance to potentially crack the top 20. But if it’s some long green flag runs like in past years, Smith is in big trouble. It’s best to fade Smith, as he will most certainly finish outside the top 25 tonight.
I know it’s hard to say Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the class of any field while keeping a straight face, but there is something about Charlotte Motor Speedway that suits his style of racing, finishing in the top 10 in 4 of the last 6 races held here and inside the top 15 in 9 of the last 12 here. Stenhouse is also having what is arguably his best season to date, with 1 win, 2 top 5’s, and 4 top 10’s in 13 starts, including a Daytona 500 victory and an average finish of 14th on the year. Stenhouse survived the attrition here last year to finish 7th and with his newfound confidence, there’s no reason he can’t bring home another top 10 tonight.
Since returning from his leg injury, Chase Elliott continues to get better and better, finishing in the top 12 in all 5 of his starts, highlighted by a 3rd place finish at Darlington. Elliott races well on both the Charlotte oval and the Charlotte roval layouts, but the oval is where we race tonight and it has been very kind to Elliott, with 1 win, 5 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s, and 332 laps led in 11 starts. 600 miles is a long race and even more so when you’re still on the mend from a leg injury, but Elliott will continue his recent success if he stays patient and bring home a top 10 finish.
I know we are probably sounding like a broken record, circa 2021, by picking Kyle Larson for the win yet again, but it’s just so damn tough to bet against him at the moment. With 2 wins and 5 top 5’s on the season, Larson is looking much like the Championship caliber driver that we expect to see. Larson would probably be doing even better if not for his best buddies Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin, but I digress. A former winner of the Coca-Cola 600, Larson is pretty solid at Charlotte, with 1 win, 2 top 5’s, and 6 top 10’s in 13 starts. Larson has been showing his mile and a half prowess again this year, finishing 2nd at both Las Vegas and Kansas. Fresh off of a victory at the All-Star Race, Kyle Larson will keep the pedal to the floor by winning his third race of the year and his second Coca-Cola 600!