Through one week, NASCAR has gotten exactly what it wanted from its return. High ratings, lots of interest, and some drama. Kyle Busch spun Chase Elliott when it looked like Elliott had the best car in Wednesday night’s Toyota 500 and Elliott responded, as we all so often do on the road, with a finger of displeasure.
Denny Hamlin went on to win the race, but social distancing prevented Elliott and Busch from coming together and now the 9 owes the 18 one at some point throughout the rest of the season.
It probably won’t come on the big track at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, but we’ll have to see. We’ve all been striving for some shred of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic and we finally have some here for NASCAR as one of the sport’s signature races retains its regular date on Memorial Day Weekend. Fans still won’t be in attendance, but qualifying will be held this time after no qualifying took place at Darlington.
Courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook, here are the odds for the Coca-Cola 600:
|Martin Truex Jr||+500|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||+18000|
|Darrell Wallace Jr||+110000|
|John Hunter Nemechek||+110000|
Charlotte Motor Speedway is actually in Concord, North Carolina and is a 1.5-mile track with 24-degree turns and generally a lot of room for open racing. In recent years, the fall race at Charlotte has been run on the hybrid Roval course, which includes a road course setup on the infield, but the 600 has always been on the main track. So, too, will be the Alsco Uniforms 500 on Wednesday.
The Coca-Cola 600 has been around since 1960, so there is a lot of history to this event. This one will be run Sunday evening starting at 6 p.m. ET, so we’ll have some interesting tire wear and adjustments to the cars as evening turns to night. Last year’s race took almost five hours and this race regularly goes at least four, so it could be a late Sunday night on Fox.
Obviously this season is one of the more unconventional that we’ve seen in NASCAR history. Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano have two wins each. Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman have the others. Three for Ford, two for Toyota, and one for Chevy. It feels like the gaps between the manufacturers are the smallest that they have been in quite some time and that should leave us with a competitive run to the playoffs. Knock on wood, but as of now, it looks like the NASCAR summer could be uninterrupted.
This week is going to really test the older drivers. Cup Series drivers will be running five races in 11 days, concluding on May 31 at Bristol. If we extend that out to the end of June, when there is a back-to-backs scheduled at Pocono on June 27 and 28, that makes 11 races in 42 days for the drivers. That is a hefty workload to say the least. Staying hydrated and mentally sharp will be extremely important, especially as the weather warms up.
Toyota has ripped off four of the last five 600 races after Chevrolet won four in a row from 2011-14. Martin Truex Jr. could use this race as a springboard. He’s won it twice and needs a top-five finish. He’s 0-for-6 in that department this year. The odds certainly reflect his past successes at Charlotte. He hasn’t had the same level of dominance we saw from him on 1.5-mile tracks during his Furniture Row Racing days, but turning back the clock here is hardly a tall ask. As a result, he’s the favorite at +500. Despite being the favorite, he’s on my card.
Kyle Busch has three finishes in the top three, but sits 13th in points because he hasn’t been able to pick up any stage wins or bonus points. We know he’s dangerous, in more ways than one, at Charlotte. His finishes have been all over the map, but he’s finished third or better six times in the 600, including his 2018 win. He’s been second, first, and third over the last three years. The price is short and he’ll have to avoid Elliott’s revenge plot, but it’s hard to skirt him at +660 this week.
As great as Kevin Harvick is, Charlotte hasn’t been kind to him with Ford. He’s finished outside the top five in all three years with the #4 Ford. With Chevy, he won the race twice and also had two runner-up finishes. That is probably circumstantial more than anything and he’s been on his game this season, but Ford hasn’t won here since 2002. He’s obviously talented enough to end the drought, but I don’t think it happens here, but he’s +660 as the co-second favorite.
Speaking of Fords, Joey Logano is 2-for-2 at 1.5 miles so far this season with wins in Vegas and Phoenix. He consistently ran in the top five in both of those races, but just happened to be at the front in the end. In fact, Harvick finished second and had more race points than Logano at Phoenix. Logano will probably be popular this week, and he’s had good speed throughout the year, but he won’t be on my card, even at 11/1.
It was a tale of two races for some drivers at Darlington because a car swap either backfired or worked out. It didn’t work out for Kurt Busch, who finished a strong third in the first race and spent half of the second race complaining about his second car. He’ll be back to the first one for sure in this one and he’s run pretty well with a third on the big track at Auto Club and a sixth at Phoenix. He’s probably not a candidate to win, but a top-five prop or a Group Finish prop makes some sense.
Ryan Blaney’s backup car wasn’t really any better for him, so his team will have to make a lot of tweaks this week. I’m actually concerned for Blaney, who had excellent speed earlier in the season. I’m not sure what changed, but he struggled with speed at Darlington. One driver that did not was Erik Jones. With his crew chief, Chris Gayle, suspended, I expected Jones to struggle, but he finished in the top five instead. If you want a longer shot this week, Jones isn’t a bad grab, given Toyota’s success in the 600.
A lot of people will be all about the uber-motivated Chase Elliott this week and I can’t fault them for that. Elliott and Bowman have both showed excellent speed for Hendrick Motorsports. If Chevy, and Hendrick in particular, are truly closing the gap, that bodes well for success here, given that they’ve got 11 wins here. The most recent was back in 2014, but Chevy has been much better over the last 18 months than it had been over the previous several years.
Elliott won both stages at Las Vegas before finishing 26th and was second in the first stage at Phoenix before finishing seventh overall. It’s been a year of frustrations with great speed, but unlucky results. Until he gets over that hump, I can’t back him at the short prices he’s getting, but I won’t be fading him in matchups or anything.
The short prices for me this week is Busch and his JGR teammate Truex as picks to win. As far as some props, a couple of group matchups I like are Martin Truex Jr. at +270 with Harvick, Busch, and Elliott. He’s the race favorite and the longest price in Group A. I also like Erik Jones at +338 in Group C over Blaney, Johnson, and Kurt Busch.
Coverage of the Coca-Cola 600 will be on Fox with a 6 p.m. start time and pre-race qualifying in the afternoon.