This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race its longest race of the season.
The Coca-Cola 600 is a marathon that rewards drivers who are patient. The length of the race is as hard on the drivers as it is on the engines. Fuel millage usually comes into play in determining the race winner.
The Coca-Cola 600 has been the site of many drivers' first wins. David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears and David Reutimann are just some of the drivers who won their first race in the Coca-Cola 600.
While some unknown drivers have won the marathon race, the best drivers usually dominate at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and Jimmie Johnson each have six wins at Charlotte.
Sprint Cup teams will qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET on Speed. Coverage of the race can be seen Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET on Fox.
Five Favorites to Watch
Johnson won his record-setting fourth Sprint All-Star Race last weekend and will try to break the record for most wins at Charlotte on Sunday.
He has a series-best 111.7 driver rating, a series-best average running position of 7.9, a series-best average green-flag speed of 176.653 mph and a series-high 4,932 laps run in the top 15. Johnson is the driver to beat on Sunday.
Kasey Kahne has had a fast car all season, but bad luck and Kyle Busch’s chrome horn have prevented him from winning more races. If he can turn his fortunes around and avoid Busch, he will have an excellent chance to visit Victory Lane on Sunday.
Kahne has the third-best driver rating of 98.1, the second-most green-flag passes, the second-most fastest laps run and his 12.4 average running position is the third-best. He will finish in the top five in Sunday’s race.
Matt Kenseth is proving that he made the right choice by joining Joe Gibbs Racing. He has won three races this season and has finished seven of the first 11 races in the top 10. Two of his wins came at racetracks (Las Vegas and Kansas) with almost the same design as Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kenseth has the fourth-best driver rating of 94.4, the fourth-most fastest laps run and his 175.786 mph average green-flag speed is the fifth-fastest in the series. He did not run well in the Sprint All-Star Race, but he will have a good run in the Coca-Cola 600.
Kyle Busch has never won at Charlotte, but that does not mean he is not a threat on Sunday.
Drivers must be patient to win such a long race. However, Busch generally runs out of patience midway through the Coca-Cola 600. But if he can control his urge to lead every lap, he could win the race on Sunday.
Busch has the second-best driver rating of 107.7, the second-best average running position of 9.6, the second-fastest average green-flag speed of 176.527 mph and a series-high 833 quality passes. If he has a good chance to win his first Coca-Cola 600.
Denny Hamlin made his return from injury at Darlington. He finished the race in second place, but he needs wins if he is to make the Chase.
Hamlin finished both races at Charlotte in the runner-up position last season. He will need to finish one spot better on Sunday.
Hamlin has the sixth-best driver rating of 92.1, the fourth-most laps run in the top 15, the fifth-best average running position of 12.9 and the ninth-best average green-flag speed of 175.656 mph. He will put it all on the line to visit Victory Lane this week.
Sleepers to Watch
Charlotte is Joey Logano's best racetrack. He's finished in the top 10 in five of his eight career races at the racetrack. Do not be surprised to see him sneak into Victory Lane on Sunday.
Logano has the eighth-best driver rating of 88.4, the eighth-best average running position of 14.5 and a series-best average finishing position at Charlotte of 10.1. If he's going to win a race in 2013, this could be the one.
Aric Almirola is off to a career-best start in 2013. Currently ninth in the point standings, he will look to get the No. 43 back to Victory Lane for the first time since April 1999 at Martinsville.
Last season was Almirola’s first Coca-Cola 600 race. He started on the pole and finished 16th. With some luck this week, he could finish in the top five for the first time this season.
If it's true that the Coca-Cola 600 rewards patient drivers, then Paul Menard has a good chance to win the race. Menard likes to hold off on moving to the front until the final laps of the race. He has shown a lot of progress this year and could win his second career race on Sunday.
Top 12 Driver Ratings at Charlotte
Jimmie Johnson: 111.7
Kyle Busch: 107.7
Kasey Kahne: 98.0
Matt Kenseth: 94.4
Greg Biffle: 94.1
Denny Hamlin: 92.1
Carl Edwards: 89.0
Joey Logano: 88.4
Mark Martin: 88.2
Jeff Gordon: 87.3
Aric Almirola: 84.8
Tony Stewart: 83.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2012 races (16 total) among active drivers at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Best Finish at Charlotte
The 2011 Coca-Cola 600 had one of the craziest finishes in NASCAR history.
Jimmie Johnson made a charge for the lead, but his engine blew up with five laps left. Greg Biffle looked like he could be the race winner, but he ran out of gas. Then, Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the fans to their feet, as he was leading the race on the last lap. However, Earnhardt ran out of gas with 500 feet left, giving Kevin Harvick the victory.
Most Wins by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (6)
Most Poles by Active Driver: Ryan Newman (9)
Worst Starting Spot to Win: Jimmie Johnson, 2003, started No. 37
Best Average Starting Position by Active Driver: Ryan Newman (6.9)
Best Average Finishing Position Active Driver: Joey Logano (10.1)
Most Laps Led by Active Driver: Jimmie Johnson (1,479)
Most Wins by NASCAR Team: Hendrick Motorsports (16)
Most Wins by Manufacturer: Chevrolet (40)
Note: All driver statistics come from DriverAverages.com.