The schedule this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway is finally back to normal–in my mind at least. There will be a practice session held on Thursday afternoon and qualifying will be held later that night. Friday will be an off-day for the drivers, but Saturday they will get two practice sessions to perfect their cars for the big race on Sunday night. The Coca Cola 600 is the longest race (in terms of mileage) for the 2011 season, and Charlotte is definitely known for producing some very exciting racing.
During The Last Points-Paying Race At Charlotte…Kyle Busch led 217 laps but it was Jamie McMurray crossing the finish line first. Busch went on to follow him, and Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five. In last year’s spring race (the 2010 Coca Cola 600), the elder Busch brother(Kurt) led 252 laps after starting second and picked up his second–.... McMurray finished 2nd in that race, while Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, and David Reutimann closed out the top five. McMurray, Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, and Matt Kenseth were the only drivers to post top ten finishes in both races at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the two points-paying races in 2010. In last weekend’s All-Star Race, Carl Edwards won the $1 million dollar prize followed by Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, Tony Stewart, and Greg Biffle.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…Now that the schedule is back to normal, I would put a lot of emphasis on average practice speeds and ten-lap averages during the final two sessions to determine your rosters. Here’s how each driver did in practice last fall at Charlotte and h.... Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were both two of the fastest in average speed for the recent All-Star race, and one went on to win the race (Edwards) while Biffle finished 5th. Tony Stewart had the best ten-lap average during the All-Star practice and wound up finishing a solid 4th. Be sure to check out my practice breakdown over onwww.ifantasyrace.com this week, as it will be more telling as to who has a good car than the recent ones have.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Coca Cola 600:
1. Carl Edwards - Cousin Carl has been pretty much untouchable all season, and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. As you know, Edwards won the All-Star Race last weekend, and while he’s not stellar at Charlotte by any means, he does have an average finish of 11.3 in points-paying races here. He finished 3rd at Texas and won at Las Vegas, so expect Edwards to fight for the win on Sunday night, especially after not getting the finish he deserved at Dover.
2. Kyle Busch - “Rowdy” has never won at Charlotte–and that includes All-Star Races. He is, however, on a seven-race streak of top 10s in points paying races at this track, and the only reason his average career finish here is so low (15.2) is because he wasn’t very good at this track early in his Sprint Cup career. The race is 600 miles on Sunday night (and that doesn’t include practice), so Kyle better hope that the Gibbs engine problem is solved or he will severely disappoint fantasy owners on Sunday night. Busch finished 2nd to Edwards in the All-Star Race last weekend.
3. Matt Kenseth - Kenseth has four straight top 10s at Charlotte and I fully expect that streak to continue this weekend. He finished 6th in the All-Star Race (out of 21) and has a little momentum after “stealing” a win in Dover. His driver rating at Charlotte over the past two years is fourth-best in the series, so Kenseth isn’t getting good finishes here just by dumb luck. He won here in 2000 and has finished outside of the top twenty just 6 times in his 23 career starts at this track.
4. Jimmie Johnson -In the eight points-paying races at Charlotte from 2003 to 2006, “Five Time” finished in the top three in every single race. His career average finish here is right around 9th and he owns six wins at this track. You probably wonder why–with those numbers–Jimmie isn’t ranked number one this week. Well, he didn’t run well at all in the All-Star Race (11th-place finish), and while I know that that race doesn’t particularly translate to how someone will run during the actual race, it’s still the same track. There has never been a points-paying race at Charlotte–that Johnson participated in–that he didn’t lead a lap, so expect JJ to challenge for the lead at least once on Sunday night.
5. Greg Biffle - Load up on the Roush Fords this weekend! They “Big Three” in that stable all looked great in the All-Star Race, and “The Biff” ended up 4th after starting 3rd. His career average finish at Charlotte is 15.5 and he finished 4th at Texas in April. Greg has never won here, but he does have six top 10s in his 16 career starts at this track. He’s been pretty good for the entire season this year, and if you take away some of the problems they had (like the fuel issue at Vegas), could easily be in the top eight in points.
6. Kasey Kahne - Kahne is either going to challenge for a top five on Sunday night, or he’s going to finish in the 30s. I don’t particularly like Red Bull Racing at Charlotte, but his teammate has found some success in that equipment. Kahne’s average finish at Charlotte is right around 13th and he won both races here in 2006. As long as his equipment holds up and nothing crazy happens to the #4 Toyota on Sunday night, a good finish should be expected.
7. Tony Stewart - It’s almost summer, and that’s the time when “Smoke” really starts running well. He finished a respectable 4th in the All-Star Race last weekend, and Tony hasn’t posted a top ten finish in the last six points-paying races at Charlotte, I could easily see that changing this weekend. He has one win here–that came in 2003–and Stewart’s career average finish at this track is 12.2. Watch Stewart’s average speed during practice, as well as his ten-lap average. If he’s near the top in both of those, stick him on your roster.
8. Jeff Gordon - Gordon hasn’t had a top ten since Talladega, so this ranking may be a bit high. If he practices just decent or even below-average, avoid him this week. I don’t like how Gordon is running this season, and pretty much the only time I will take him is if he surprises me in practice. At Charlotte, Jeff has four top 10s in the last six races and owns a career average finish right around 15th–including five wins. In his twenty career top 10s at this track, sixteen have been top 5s, so expect a really strong run or a disappointing finish out of Gordon this weekend.
9. Denny Hamlin - Like I said before, the Gibbs stable better hope that their engines can last for the longest race of the season. Hamlin’s career average finish at Charlotte is 14.6 and he finished 4th here in the fall after ending up 18th in 2010’s Coca Cola 600. The former has been his best finish ever here (All-Star Race included), so don’t expect Hamlin to challenge for the win, but a top ten is possible. He ended up 7th in the All-Star Race last weekend out of 21.
10. Kevin Harvick - I really didn’t know how to rank Harvick this week, so this is probably going to be one of the drivers that will either go way up or way down when I make my post-qualifying predictions. He finished 11th and 8th in the two Charlotte races during the 2010 season, but that was last year when he was having a remarkable season overall. His career average finish at this track is 17.2, but you never know where “The Closer” will end up when it’s all said and done. He finished 9th in the All-Star Race out of 21.
11. Mark Martin - I’m still not liking how Martin is running this season, which is why I have him ranked 11th. He has been good here recently, with a worst finish of 17th over the past four races, but I just don’t see him doing anything spectacular on Sunday night. Martin’s average finish over the course of career at Charlotte Motor Speedway has been right around 15th, and I think he will finish between 11th and 15th on Sunday night.
12. Clint Bowyer - Bowyer finished 2nd at Texas in April and has two top 10s in his past three starts at Charlotte. His best finish here came in 2007 when he finished 2nd and Clint finished 2nd in the All-Star Race last weekend after starting 2nd. A finish between 12th and 15th is likely for Clint this weekend, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he cracked the top ten. He has six top 10s in the last seven races of the year, so he definitely has momentum on his side.
13. Joey Logano - Statistically, this is Logano’s best track, but I don’t think that he will finish as good as his career average finish (6.9). He has three top 10s in his four career starts at Charlotte with a worst finish of 13th, which came last year in the Coca Cola 600. With the way his season has been going, I probably won’t pick him this week, but you can’t go against Joey’s history at this track. He finished 5th in the Showdown last weekend.
14. Jamie McMurray - Jamie Mac’s season has to turn around eventually..right? He finished 2nd and 1st in the two Charlotte races last season, and while I don’t think that he will repeat anywhere near that on Sunday night, this is his third-best track on the circuit (with an average finish of 15th) and a top fifteen is definitely possible. Be sure to watch the #1 Chevy in practice. McMurray finished 17th in the All-Star Race out of 21.
15. David Reutimann - Statistically, this is Reutty’s best track, so he should definitely be in the back of your mind all week. He won 2009’s Coca Cola 600 (although it was rain-shortened) and hasn’t finished worse than 15th since then, including 5th and 9th-place efforts last season. He finished 3rd in the All-Star Race out of 21.
Underdogs Entering The Coca Cola 600:
Regan Smith - Statistically, Charlotte is Smith’s second-best track, and he hasn’t been too terrible for being a C-list driver in Yahoo! He finished 13th here last fall after a 19th-place effort in last year’s Coca Cola 600, and in Regan’s four career starts here, his worst finish has been 23rd.
Marcos Ambrose - Ambrose usually races very well in the Showdown races, but that success doesn’t translate to actual points-paying races. He finished 4th at Las Vegas and 6th at Texas, though, so make sure you watch the #9 Ford in practice.
David Ragan - I really like how Ragan is racing this season and his car looked great when he won the Showdown last weekend. The #6 Ford wound up 8th in the All-Star Race, ahead of Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Jimmie Johnson. In the last six points-paying races at this track, David has three top 10s and he finished 7th at Texas in April.
Brian Vickers - Vickers has two finishes of 5th at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he’s pretty inconsistent–and Red Bull Racing is as well. He has three top tens in the last four races, and if he has a good car on Sunday night, Brian could make that four of five.
Those To Avoid Entering The Coca Cola 600:
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior just isn’t very good at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He looked average in both the Showdown and the All-Star Race, and Little E hasn’t posted a top ten in a points-paying race here since early 2008. Over the past two years, drivers such as Casey Mears, Scott Speed, and Robby Gordon have better average finishes than Earnhardt at this track. Robby Gordon! Pass on the 88 this weekend. He finished 14th out of 21 in the All-Star Race.
Jeff Burton - In the last four points-paying races at Charlotte, Jeff Burton has posted three finishes in the 20s. Those finishes aren’t going to win you any fantasy championships, so stay away from him this week. I would say a mid-teens finish for Burton this week would be the best that he could do.
Kurt Busch - I understand that Kurt Busch was very solid here last spring, but it seems like week in and week out lately the “double deuce” isn’t running up to potential. He’s either really good here or really bad, but and the only way I would recommend him this week would be if he qualified up front and looked great in practice. Kurt finished 13th out of 21 in the All-Star Race.
Brad Keselowski - BK has had a couple of good races recently at Darlington and Dover, but I’m going to wait a while until I really believe that the chemistry between him and crew chief Paul Wolfe will translate to a bunch of success in the Sprint Cup Series. Keselowski finished 20th and 27th at the two Charlotte races in 2010. He finished 18th out of 21 in the All-Star Race.