There are three major races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule: the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Coca-Cola 600. They are known as some of the longest, most physically-demanding events all season long. But don't take my word for it; NASCAR itself chose these events to be 3 out of the 4 "crown jewel" races that had to be won in order to claim what was known as the "Winston Million" back in the 1980s and 1990s. It was one of the moves made in that era to spark interest in the sport and put NASCAR in the national spotlight. About a decade-and-a-half later, the Coca-Cola 600 is still as prestigious and challenging as it was then. At 400 laps and 600 miles long, this is the longest race on the Cup schedule. Not only is nearly 4 hours of racing here demanding on the drivers, but also on engines and other equipment. This means that only the best of the best, in both categories, contend for wins here annually.
Located just outside the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina, this 1.5-mile quad oval is one of the most famous race tracks in America, due to it's large number of high-rising sky boxes and guest suites. Without a doubt, CMS is one of the richest and most well-kept facilities. The design on the track was unique, being one of the first tracks to feature a dogleg on the front straightaway, as you can see on the right. This has made for exciting racing and even better finishes over the years. Charlotte features 24 degrees of banking in the turns but only a mere 5 degrees down the front and back straightaways. Pit road speed limit is 45mph, average for a track of this size. With 146,000 seats, Charlotte accommodates more fans than any other track in NASCAR except Indianapolis, and also can hold . Many other NASCAR facilities have been modeled after the blueprint of this track, including Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is also the "home track" for all of the major NASCAR teams except Furniture Row Racing, which is based in Denver. Team shops and museums are scattered all around the area, mostly in Mooresville and Concord, both of which are located just a few minutes from downtown Charlotte. Speaking from personal experience, it is quite easy to spend an entire day or more just looking into the shops and museums for NASCAR's elite. With racing facilities such as the zMax Dragway and the Charlotte Dirt Track, right next to CMS, you can easily experience all three types of racing, as all three tracks are literally right across the street from each other. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, home to thousands of artifacts, cars, and memorabilia, is also located just 13 miles from the track. Combine all that with this world-class race track, and Charlotte, North Carolina, becomes a NASCAR fan's heaven.
The key to winning the Coke 600 is endurance. As I said before, this is the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, and 600 miles is pure torment for the drivers and equipment. Thankfully for the teams, this is a night race, so engines won't have to deal with very high temperatures. But last year's event here was the longest in NASCAR history (in terms of miles, not time), as a green-white-checkered finish pushed the race beyond it's scheduled distance. This means that engines and other important pieces of equipment will have to endure not only the entire race, but the possibility of extra time. But the drivers will also have to have plenty of physical endurance. Drivers will have to deal with not only handling a 3,400 pound stock car around the track, but also with the g-forces of 24 degrees of banking pushing against them for over 4 hours.
As for your Fantasy teams, there are some obvious choices that stand above the rest. Here is my breakdown of the two major NASCAR Fantasy games: NASCAR.com's Fantasy Live and Yahoo! Fantasy Racing.
For Yahoo!, you must have two A drivers, four B drivers, and two C drivers. With my A group, I am taking Jimmie Johnson as my starter because of not only how he ran in the All-Star race, but because of his past stats. He is the all-time leader here in wins (6), laps led (1,386), and is second in average finish out of drivers who have more than 1 career start. Johnson is my pick to win Sunday night. For my bench in group A, I will have Kyle Busch. He won the pole last Saturday, and though he's never visited victory lane here, he does have a pair of second-place finishes and 5 total finishes in the top three. He is the best pick behind Johnson.
There are plenty of good selections for the B group, so it was actually quite easy figuring out who to pick. For my starters, I have A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne. The Dinger was one of the best last Saturday and finished 7th and 5th in the two Charlotte races last year. As long as he can avoid mechanical problems, I think he's good for a top five and maybe even a win. Kahne has seemed to get out of his bad luck streak, with 5 consecutive top tens. He has had tremendous runs here before, having three career wins here, two of which came in the Coca-Cola 600 (2006, 2008). He's good for a top ten and maybe even a top 5. For my bench in group B, I have Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Logano has also run good here in the past, with 4 top tens in 6 starts, along with never finishing worse than 13th. He could be a bit risky, as he's been inconsistent throughout this season, but I expect another top 10 from him. Newman is solely on my team for qualifying purposes and the 10 bonus points for winning the pole. He's had good runs here before, with four top 5s, but he has a series-leading 9 poles and an average start of 7th, which to me is priceless. I see him finishing in the top 15 in the 600.
For my C group, I am starting Trevor Bayne because he is running a limited part-time schedule. I am planning on using him whenever possible, and this is one of those weeks. Although he has made just one points race start here (he finished 15th in last week's All-Star race), I believe that 400 miles will give him enough time to figure out the track and finish in the top 25 or better. My other C driver is Casey Mears, because he won the Coca-Cola 600 back in 2007, and also has 17 races experience, much more than most other C drivers. I expect Mears to finish right in front of the start-n-parks but behind the middle of the pack drivers, around 30th.
For NASCAR Fantasy Live!, you get unlimited starts for every driver. This means you can take whoever you want, as long as it's in your budget. I am choosing virtually the same lineup as my Yahoo! teams, but I added Marcos Ambrose for $19.00. So my lineup for here includes Jimmie Johnson ($28.00), A.J. Allmendinger ($21.00), Joey Logano ($19.50), and Trevor Bayne ($11.00). The total price was $98.50. Remember, I might change my lineups for both games before the actual race, as I want to get a chance to watch practices and qualifying first. But these are likely similar to what I will keep come Sunday night.
The Cup Series has 1 practice on Thursday, at 3:30pm. Qualifying takes place a 7:00pm Thursday night, under conditions similar to what the race will be. There is no racing Friday, but a few practice sessions take place Saturday, the first at 10:00am and the second at 1:00pm. All of the practices and qualifying will be broadcast on Speed Channel. FOX's broadcast of the Coca-Cola 600 (400 laps/600 miles) begins at 5:30pm Sunday evening, and the green flag is scheduled to drop at approximately 6:19pm. All times are ET.