NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

It seems like this season brings us history-making opportunities each week. This race weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway is no exception. As Brad Keselowski's future as a possible team owner in 2022 becomes the top news story that can't be confirmed, Brad will race to defend his 2020 Coca-Cola 600 victory and become the seventh different driver to win back-to-back Coke 600s. That illustrious club includes: Buddy Baker (1972-‘73), Darrell Waltrip (twice: 1978-’79 and 1988-’89), Neil Bonnett (1982-’83), Dale Earnhardt (1992-’93), Jeff Gordon (1997-‘98) and Jimmie Johnson (2003, ’04, ’05).
But not if Hendrick Motorsports has anything to say about it. With Chase Elliott's win in the inaugural Cup race at Circuit of The Americas, Hendrick Motorsports is tied with Petty Enterprises for the most series wins by a single organization with 268 victories each. Will Mr. H's organization surpass Richard Petty Motorsports this week with win number 269?

This Week's Fantasy Pick Strategy: This long and grueling race favors veterans drivers who know not to take the endurance factor of this race for granted. In the Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, and Jamie McMurray days it was easier to pick drivers who took their fitness seriously. Now many drivers have caught up and also learned a thing or two about the importance of hydration for especially long races. Keep your eye on drivers like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and William Byron, who qualified in second and fourth, respectively. Also, think Chevys. In practice on Saturday eight of the 10 fastest cars were Chevys, and eight of the top 10 starting positions are filled by Chevys, including Larson on the pole by .042 seconds over Stenhouse. Elliott and Byron make up Row 2. 
Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Martin Truex Jr. - 5
All with 4 - Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch
All with 3 -  Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin

By Track
Martin Truex Jr. - 9
Both with 8 - Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch
Both with 7 - Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin 
Both with 5 - Chase Ellliott and Kyle Busch

Recent Pole Winners:  
2020 Kurt Busch
2019 William Byron
2018 Kyle Busch

Last Year's Race Winner: Brad Keselowski

Top 12 Driver Ratings at Charlotte
Kyle Busch............................... 105.9
Chase Elliott............................... 96.5
Denny Hamlin............................. 95.0
Martin Truex Jr........................... 92.0
Kevin Harvick............................. 90.8
Joey Logano.............................. 90.3
Kurt Busch................................. 88.5
Brad Keselowski......................... 87.9
Tyler Reddick............................. 87.8
Kyle Larson................................ 86.8
Ryan Blaney............................... 86.7
William Byron............................. 83.2

Likely Suspects: My 600 go-tos are the Busch Brothers, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Tyler Reddick.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is Martin Truex Jr. My next picks are Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, and Tyler Reddick. I will complete my team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez.

My Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is also last week's second-look driver, William Byron. William was ninth fastest in practice on Saturday. In just his second start at Charlotte in 2019, Byron became the youngest pole sitter for the 600 at the age of 21 years, 5 months, and 24 days. That 2019 race was his best showing at the 1.5-mile oval, leading 31 laps before crossing the finish line in ninth.
Last week William started in fifth and finished the race in 11th. The difference-maker for William can be chalked up to a failed early pit strategy and a wreck with the No. 21 car in Stage 1. The car never really did drive the same after that. "We honestly wanted to win today, and I thought we were in a great position and I just jumped the gun on pitting too early. I got the rain tires on the car and we were a little too dry for it and wore them out. We were running fifth there in Stage 1 and the 21 got into us and tore the right rear up and we just had a bunch of damage after that. They did a great job repairing it but it never really drove the same. To finish 11th after that is good, it’s a bummer, but I thought for sure we would get a Top 10."

Points to Ponder:
  • The first and second starting positions are the most prolific starting positions in the field, producing more winners (17 each) than any other starting position at Charlotte Motor Speedway – combining to win 27.87% of the races. 
  • 17 of the 122 NASCAR Cup Series races at Charlotte (13.9%) have been won from the pole (first starting position); the most recent was Kyle Busch in the 2018 Coca-Cola 600.
    Eight different manufacturers have won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Charlotte, led by Chevrolet with 46 victories. 
  • A total of 14 different drivers have won consecutive poles at Charlotte. Kevin Harvick is the most recent driver to post consecutive poles (2016 Playoffs, 2017 May race). 
  • Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles at Charlotte Motor Speedway with nine (2001, 2003 sweep, 2004, 2005, 2007 sweep, 2009 and 2010). 
  • Eight of the 52 NASCAR Cup Series Charlotte Motor Speedway winners are active this weekend: Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., both with 3 each; Brad Keselowski, 2; and Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kurt and Kyle Busch, all with one each.
  • Kevin Harvick leads all active drivers in runner-up finishes at Charlotte with four (2001, 2014, 2015, 2016).
  • Kyle Busch leads all active series drivers with 14 Top 5 finishes at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch lead all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in top-10 finishes at Charlotte with 19 each.
Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your final pick by 6 p.m. EDT on race day, Sunday, May 30th.

Enjoy the race!

Carol D'Agostino has been playing Fantasy NASCAR for 15 years. She launched  NASCAR Fantasy Fusion for Skirts & Scuffs in October 2011. Each week, Carol pores through statistics and combs through her personal notebooks to arm fans with analysis and picking strategies that will leave their friends wondering how they got so smart. Carol also does race coverage for Skirts & Scuffs at Richmond Raceway and occasionally at her home track, Dover International Speedway. She is also part of the distinguished NASCAR Expert Picks panel at formerly called Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet.
When she isn’t wielding her fantasy-racing superpowers, you’ll find Carol hammering out a news release or creating a marketing strategy at a small niche public relations firm she founded called Purple Cat, or executing downtown revitalization projects for a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Reviewed by Carol D'Agostino on Saturday, May 29, 2021 Rating: 5