The Frontstretch: Going The Distance: Fantasy Picks For The Coca-Cola 600 by Jeff Wolfe -- Thursday May 23, 2013

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Going The Distance: Fantasy Picks For The Coca-Cola 600

Jeff Wolfe · Thursday May 23, 2013

 

When it comes to Sunday, it is for auto racing fans, the best day of the year. Even if you’re not a huge IndyCar fan, you at the very least have to pay attention to what happens in the Indy 500, maybe at least check it a few times and catch the final 50 laps or so, assuming you also woke up at the crack of dawn to catch the Monaco Grand Prix. And sure those are big deals, but the Sprint Cup drivers take it to another level Sunday night by going 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

So, obviously, endurance is a key for this race when it comes deciding who to pick. There are so many factors that can play into it. If a driver has a good handling car, there is less energy spent trying to point it where you want it to go. That’s easier on the driver and the engine, too. It’s the only race of the year where the engines have to last more than 500 miles (not counting Green-White-Checkered finishes). So, drivers have to take care of themselves and their car and just who is best at doing that may well be the driver who reaches the finish line first late Sunday night.

Here’s a look at some favorites to finish well for your fantasy team this week.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

Jimmie Johnson’s record speaks for itself here. He’s got six wins at Charlotte in 23 races and certainly looked dominant at the right time in winning the All-Star race for the fourth time Saturday night. Johnson also has nine other top 10 finishes to go with those six wins. The only reason to not pick him here is if you are on race pick limits and want to save five-timer for some of the Chase races at the end of the season.

A driver who has stepped forward to challenge Johnson this season is Matt Kenseth. Sure, there were questions about his move from Roush-Fenway to Joe Gibbs Racing this season, but those types of questions seem to be answered. The one issue that could pop up during this race is the Yotas’ ability to last for 600 miles. They seemed to have their dependability issues figured since the season-opening Daytona 500, but it’s still something to keep in the back of your mind when making picks for this long of a race. Oh, and Kenseth does have two wins and 12 other top 10 finishes in 27 races at Charlotte, so there’s that, too.

A younger driver with impressive numbers at Charlotte is Kasey Kahne. He has four wins there in 18 races and six other top 10 finishes. He has an average finish of 12.44 and has led 807 laps there. While many will make Johnson the prohibitive favorite Sunday night for good reason, I’m making Kahne my pick to win this week.

Kasey Kahne was in position to win The All-Star Race on Saturday, but got the headlight stickers on his SS sucked off by his teammate and the No. 22 of Joey Logano. If he can keep it out of the wall and ahead of Kyle Busch this weekend, he’s going to be hard to handle.

One driver to avoid this week may well be Kevin Harvick. Even though he’s known for hanging around and finishing strong in races, “The Closer” has an average finish of 18th at Charlotte, and that’s including one win.

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Well, there is always Kyle Busch to look at in this spot, and while he does have 11 top 10 finishes in 18 races at Charlotte, he doesn’t have a win yet. And while he’s capable of winning there, maybe this is the week to look elsewhere for the middle of the packers.

One interesting option here could be Joey Logano. He doesn’t have a win yet at Charlotte in eight races, but he does have an average finish of 10.13. He also has five top 10s, even though he’s only led three laps. He’s not a regular pick, so he’s someone to look at this week if you are on pick limits.

A driver who has yet to win at Charlotte, but could be a threat this week is Carl Edwards. He has 10 top 10 finishes there in 16 races. Edwards is certainly in the physical condition to perform well for 600 miles, and he’s in the midst of a bounce-back season after his 2012 disaster. And he just might feel a lot better if he can beat former teammate Kenseth, too. If Edwards does win, the biggest question may be if he’s got enough energy to do his famed victory back flip.

It’s been a rough few outings for Mark Martin and the No. 55 team. Will he have the last laugh after 600 miles on Sunday?

One last guy that’s tough to leave out in this category is the ageless wonder, Mark Martin. Sure, he’s a bit of a long shot, as the No. 55 has lacked the speed of his teammates the past couple of outings, but he’s always been in great physical condition and he does have four wins at Charlotte, including the 2002 Coca-Cola 600. He’s also led a remarkable 1,185 laps in 56 races at Charlotte, so he knows the best way around the track. Just don’t forget him when it comes to make your picks.

DARK HORSES

Ahh, the underdogs. They can emerge sometimes in these long races, so maybe we can find a hidden jewel this week.

The usual suspects here are rookies Ricky Stenhouse and Danica Patrick. Stenhouse has proven he definitely belongs in the Sprint Cup Series, and he’s good enough in this final category that you might want to save him for later if you are on pick limits.

Meanwhile, the popular Patrick got booed at the All-Star race Saturday night, so maybe she will have a little extra motivation to do well. One thing Patrick has proven she can do is take care of her car over a long distance. The problem, though, has been staying on the lead lap. If you think she can do that, she might not be a bad pick here.

Two other obvious picks for a final spot in your roster this week are either Trevor Bayne, or the driver of the No. 51 car, Regan Smith. Bayne is on a limited schedule, so it’s tough to not pick him when he does race. However, in three races at Charlotte he has an average finish of 25.67, so be a little careful there.

As for Smith, in eight races at Charlotte he does have one top 10 finish. That combined with the overall success of the No. 51 car may make him your pick in this spot this week. Also, there’s the possibility that the No. 51 may not be available all season as owner James Finch has had trouble finding sponsorship money. So, you may want to take the No. 51 while you can.

James Finch will likely be taking his red Solo cup and No. 51 team home this summer, but Regan Smith is still a solid pick in the Coca-Cola 600. Hendrick engine reliability, and a team that does the most with less makes him a perfect lower tier pick.

REARVIEW MIRROR

We take a look at each of the two Frontstretch Fantasy leagues in Yahoo! each week, made up of a combined 63 entries. The leaderboard took a bit of a twist after Darlington with a tie between RWO Motoring and team cdakost each with 2,894 points. RWO Motoring has the tiebreaker at the moment with five top five finishes, while cdakost has one top five finish.

The top individual picks for the second time in three weeks came from the Ford Malone team. The victory by Matt Kenseth, along with a sixth from Kyle Busch, a 14th from Kurt Busch and an 18th from Ricky Stenhouse totaled 344 points.

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Carl D.
05/23/2013 10:33 AM
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Jeff…

I see you read my comment to yesterday’s column by Tom Bowles where I said the 600 was Kasey Kahne’s to lose. Just remember, I said it first.

Though not really a dark horse, I could see Jeff Gordon keeping his car clean for 600 miles and grabbing a win this week. As for a true dark horse, Jamie McMurray runs well at Charlotte and a win Sunday would not be a total surprise.

With all that said, I’m still sticking pins in my Jimmie Johnson voodoo doll.