Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Coca-Cola 600 Preview: NASCAR's Race More Compelling Than Indy 500

Danica Patrick will be racing in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday, not the Indy 500
By Micah Roberts

The ultimate weekend for auto racing enthusiasts is upon us as the three major series have three of their biggest races of the year this Sunday. If you get up early enough, you can start your day by watching the Grand Prix of Monaco live from Monte Carlo. A few hours later, it’s the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 and then the triple feature concludes with NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte.

Memorial Day weekend always signifies a time when we reflect upon our soldiers and offer our appreciation for keeping America free. It’s also a time that we can bond with family and tell the tale of war stories from family members that have passed away, but yet keeping the memories alive for the next generation to proudly pass onto their children.

Somewhere intertwined though all those memories, most of us can remember the Indy 500 being on television whether it was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports same day taped coverage or run live as it has since 1986. It didn’t matter that most of us may not have known much about auto racing, but we all certainly knew who Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti were.

That’s kind of where the Indy 500 is now as the Indy Racing series comes at a cross roads of who they are. The series has the greatest, most renowned race in world, but few people follow the series’ other races opting to spend most of their allotted auto racing viewing time on the weekly NASCAR racing.

Here in Las Vegas only two sports books, the LVH Super Book and MGM Resorts, carry the odds on a weekly basis which kind of tells you about the supply and demand of the series. If bettors were regularly going up to the sports book directors and asking for odds on Indy Racing, odds would be put up, but bettors aren’t.

However, for the Indy 500, every sports book is offering odds and most have had them up for over a month now. The 5-to-2 favorite to win this week is Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe who will be starting from the pole on Sunday. Next up is a couple more Penske drivers with Indy points leader Will Power at 5-to-1 odds along with three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

The top teams have a huge edge here at Indy just because they have the most funding to be the best prepared throughout testing. Along with Penske Racing, we have Chip Gansasi Racing and Andretti Autosport that figure to be the best this week. Because of using a Honda engine, the Ganassi teams can be shaded down a notch this season leaving us with basically two teams to choose the winner from.

Because we can eliminate at least three-fourths of the field with no legitimate shot at winning, that leaves only a small handful of drivers capable which is why we rarely see a payout as large as we saw last season with the late Dan Wheldon paying out at 12-to-1 odds. It was the largest Indy 500 payout since Kenny Brack won in 1999 at 25-to-1 odds.

This year should be no different from years past, I’ll take a Penske car to win.

The NASCAR race on Sunday will provide a little more variety with drivers that have a possible chance of winning. Of the 43 drivers participating Sunday, a good case could be made for about 24 of them to win which makes things a little more interesting when making a wager.

The Coca-Cola 600 is a long race that also factors in changing elements, in addition to the extra pit stops that have to be made due to the distance compared to other races. Crew chiefs will be working overtime as they try to match their car set-up with the changing temperatures as this race goes from daylight, twilight, dusk, and then closes out at night time.

Everyone got a little taste of what we might see this week from the All-Star race last Saturday won by Jimmie Johnson in a car that was superior to all others. The ideal move would be to bring that same car again this week.

It's surprising that Dale Earnhardt Jr has never won a points paying race in Charlotte over his career. His last top-5 at the track came in 2008, but after watching him run in the Sprint Shootout and All-Star races last week he looks like he might be able to contend for the win.

“I think the (NASCAR Sprint) All-Star Race showed what we are capable of doing for the 600," said Earnhardt Jr. "We are bringing the same car, and we have a couple of ideas on how to make the car even faster – especially for qualifying – that I hope will work out.”

The Ford drivers got a major scare last week when the engines of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle blew up during the All-Star race. That’s not the type of production these two drivers chasing a championship want to see at a track this week that requires maximum RPM’s for 600 miles.

Carl Edwards said his blown engine was a result of the team being aggressive with down force by taping up too much of the front which had his car at 290 degrees to start the race.

“I had red lights on the dash the whole time,” Edwards said. “We had it taped up too much trying to get too much downforce and we just broke it. We went all-out and it didn’t work. No worries with the engine. That’s the hardest we’ve run one of these engines in a long time. I’ve never seen that water temp and that oil temp in a racecar for that long and have it live, so I’m pretty proud of Doug (Yates) and the guys that it made it as long as it did.”

Teammate Matt Kenseth was able to finish third in the All-Star race with no engine problems and did win the fall Charlotte race last season making him a great candidate to win his first Coca-Cola 600 since his rookie year in 2000.

However, I’m not completely buying into Edwards claim that everything is fine and it was just a matter of being aggressive in a non-points race. The fact that two Roush cars went down with engine failure makes Johnson even more of a favorite this week and has me skeptical on the Roush drivers even though Biffle should be considered one of the favorites.

Johnson’s on a roll having won at Darlington two weeks ago and then getting the $1 million payout last week. He’s a six-time winner at Charlotte and will once again be the driver to beat.

Top-5 Coca-Cola 600 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
2) #5 Kasey Kahne (12/1)
3) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (16/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)

Top-5 Indy 500 Finish Prediction:
1) #12 Will Power (5/1)
2) #11 Tony Kanaan (12/1)
3) #2 Ryan Briscoe (5/2)
4) #3 Helio Castroneves (5/1)
5) #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (12/1)

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