On the heels of NASCAR's exciting Sprint All-Star Race, the top series in stock car racing is back in Charlotte this week, but this time points are on the line.
The Sprint Cup Series' best drivers will do battle in the Coca-Cola 600 as they try to either enter Chase for the Sprint Cup contention or solidify their current positioning. This race has been known to produce some surprising winners, so essentially anything can happen.
Fuel strategy often plays a big role, and there is no question that teams will roll the dice in hopes of stealing one on Memorial Day weekend. The Indianapolis 500 receives most of the publicity, but it can certainly be argued that the Coca-Cola 600 is the most exciting race of the day.
Here is everything you need to know about when and where to watch the Coca-Cola 600, along with predictions for who will contend and ultimately take the checkered flag.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina
When: Sunday, May 25 at 6 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
|Starting Position||Driver||Car No.|
|10||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88|
|15||Martin Truex Jr.||78|
|23||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17|
Drivers to Watch
It is difficult to fathom the fact that Jimmie Johnson hasn't won a race yet this season, but every week presents a new opportunity for the No. 48 team. The six-time Sprint Cup champion has come close to reaching Victory Lane on multiple occasions this year; however, things simply haven't broken his way as they have in the past.
Perhaps JJ's luck is starting to change, though, as he captured the Coca-Cola 600 pole in impressive fashion this week. While the great qualifying run is definitely a step in the right direction, Johnson realizes that getting the job done during the race is what will truly get him back on track, according to The Associated Press (h/t Fox News):
It certainly shows that we're going to be strong this weekend. I don't know that it sends the same message that winning two or three races will send. But I would love to rattle off two or three wins and have people fear the No. 48 as they have in the past. I don't think a pole position does that to the garage area, but you have to start somewhere.
Charlotte Motor Speedway has been a great track for Johnson over the years, as his six wins are the most among active drivers. He has finished in the top five in nearly half of his 25 Charlotte starts, so the odds suggest that he will be near the front for much of the race.
Johnson is bound to have some luck on his side at some point, and a win at Charlotte may follow if he has a clean run Sunday.
Inconsistency has plagued Kasey Kahne this season, but his recent results suggest that he is in the midst of a hot streak. Kahne has back-to-back finishes in the top 10, and before an oil slick caused him to wreck in last weekend's Sprint All-Star Race, he was an extremely strong candidate to win.
The switch seems to have been flipped for Kahne, and it may have happened at Kansas a couple of weeks ago. According to David Caraviello of NASCAR.com, the driver and his team have capitalized on promising testing to score some impressive results:
Remember, Kahne said last week they hit on something at a tire test at Kansas, and used that info to get their first top-5 of the year.— David Caraviello (@dcaraviello) May 18, 2014
It remains to be seen if that will carry over to Charlotte, but it most definitely should considering the success Kahne has had there. With four wins and nine top-five finishes in 20 starts, it is safe to say that Charlotte is his favorite track.
Kahne has also put himself in fine position to contend for a win by qualifying third, so essentially everything is working in his favor. He is in great form on his best track and should have a teammate to work with up front in the form of Johnson.
The No. 5 team needs a win to enter the Chase discussion, and this may be Kahne's best shot.
The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule at 400 laps on a 1.5-mile track. It is a true test of endurance, and winning it is a major accomplishment. Many have questioned if the 600-mile race is a bit excessive, but Joey Logano has no issue with it, per Fox Sports NASCAR:
Perhaps Logano's point of view has something to do with the fact that he has had a great deal of success at Charlotte. Although he has never won there, he has six top-10 runs in 10 tries and a better average finish than anyone else on the Sprint Cup circuit at 10.4.
In addition, Logano happens to have no pressure on his shoulders entering this race. With wins at Texas and Richmond, he has already cemented his place in the Chase. Even if he is a below-average driver between now and the start of the Chase, he is still going to make it in.
That means Logano doesn't have to play it safe and settle for solid finishes. He can afford to go for broke in terms of trying to rack up even more victories.
Logano has come close to winning at Charlotte on a few occasions already, and his safety net makes him a real threat to cross the finish line first this weekend.
Who will win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte?
Johnson, Kahne and Logano certainly stand out above the rest of the field, but they are far from the only contenders to win this race. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray have all won at Charlotte on multiple occasions.
Gordon has done so five times, and he is coming off his first win of the season at Kansas. With a win under his belt and a spot atop the point standings, he should be racing free and easy at the helm of the No. 24 machine.
McMurray has momentum as well after his surprising Sprint All-Star Race victory. He isn't viewed as a top Chase contender by most, but all it takes is one win to change that.
Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are all looking for their first Charlotte wins, but the trio has come close on multiple occasions, so any one of them could potentially come out on top.
As is the case on a weekly basis, anywhere from 15 to 20 different drivers have a great chance to win. The number becomes even bigger when you consider the fact that pit strategy should play a pivotal role.
A number of factors will determine how this race plays out, but Johnson is a guy who is long overdue. He will end his drought on Memorial Day weekend.
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