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You’re forgiven if you wait until Saturday night to make your picks for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That’s when time trials for the race take place. Recent results at the 1.5-mile track suggest that speed in qualifying translates to success in NASCAR’s longest race.
The last two winners of the Coke 600—Kyle Larson in 2021 and Denny Hamlin last year—started from the pole, though their respective paths to victory were markedly different.
Larson dominated from the outset, leading 327 of 400 laps and winning the first three stages. Hamlin, on the other hand, led just 15 laps and needed two overtimes to vanquish Kyle Busch by .014 seconds.
Accordingly, it’s understandable if you wait to see who’s fast in time trials before you lay your money down.
Admittedly, Denny Hamlin was in the right place at the right time when he won last year’s Coca-Cola 600 in overtime.
NASCAR’s longest race is a study in survival, and drivers like Hamlin, who are adept at saving their equipment for the end of a race, tend to prevail in the 400-lap marathon.
Hamlin is the most recent winner at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway, having triumphed on May 7 at Kansas Speedway. In general terms, he’s optimistic about the quality of Joe Gibbs Racing’s equipment on the downforce tracks.
“I feel like our cars have definitely gotten better on the mile-and-a-half tracks,” said Hamlin, who is seeking his 50th victory in the series. “Obviously, we did win the last mile-and-a-half at Kansas, so I’m optimistic going into this weekend.
“We know we will have to beat the Hendrick guys if we want to have a shot, but I feel like we’ve been trending in the right direction on these types of tracks. We have as good a chance as anyone. We just have to execute throughout the race and be there at the end.”
Though Hamlin isn’t our top pick to win, he’s a decent bet at +700 if you’re a Toyota enthusiast.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and William Byron have combined to win five of the first 13 NASCAR Cup Series points races this season, with Byron claiming three victories and Larson two.
In addition, Larson just dominated the exhibition NASCAR All-Star Race at the revitalized North Wilkesboro Speedway.
The bottom line is that the Hendrick cars have shown excellent speed at all varieties of Cup venues, and that’s not about to change in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
Chase Elliott is seeking his first victory of the season after returning from a snowboarding injury, and Alex Bowman is back in the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet after missing three weeks with a compression fracture of the spine.
But we’re looking at Larson as the race winner at Charlotte, even at the short odds of +450 (DraftKings).
Two other propositions: we like hedging with a collective bet on Ford drivers to win (+500 DraftKings). There are 14 Fords in the field of 37, so you’re covering more than a third of the field at an excellent price.
We also like Bubba Wallace to finish in the top three at +550 (DraftKings) based on his strength at intermediate tracks.
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Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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