For the first time in the last seven races, drivers and teams will have the benefit of two practice sessions after already having qualified on Thursday evening. Both of those practices will be run Saturday with the first at 10:00 a.m. EST and the final session at 1:00 p.m. EST.
I wouldn’t expect a large amount of laps to be run by many teams on Saturday due the length of Sunday’s race and the tax that places on the engines, but I would expect most teams to focus on the first practice session as more of a barometer than the second. Track temperatures will be much closer to the temps that could be expected as the sun goes down and the lights come on about half way through the race.
The challenge at the Coca-Cola 600 has always been finding that balance between the late afternoon heat, the transition between day and night, and finally as the track cools down and the grip increases. These challenges can lead to some very improbable and surprising finishes so do not be surprised if we get to see yet another FIRT TIME winner at the end of the night.
With that said, let’s get to handicapping the matchups that the folks at Don Best (http://www.donbest.com/) have already loaded for this Sunday afternoon/evening’s race.
As usual, I will quote my prices on these matchups based upon a 30 cent line (-150 favorite = +120 underdog). *NOTE: Prices will reflect the expected performance of the teams during Saturday’s practices. Updates will be available due to any huge discrepancies of course.
|Are we likely to see this again on Sunday Night? (Getty)|
#18 Kyle Busch vs. #14 Tony Stewart: Outside of Stewart's dominating performance at Las Vegas, he and his team have been less than mediocre at both Texas and Kansas with finishes of 24th and 13th. Stewart also only has one top 10 in the 600 since 2007, so this has to be Kyle Busch as a pretty decent favorite in this matchup. This just seems more like a top 10 vs. a top 15 car so let's go with Kyle Busch at -150 in this one.
#14 Tony Stewart vs. #99 Carl Edwards: This one looks to favor Edwards and his team based upon season "cookie cutter" performance (7.3 vs. 12.7 average finish) with his three top 10's. They are very close in terms of Charlotte performance having finished one spot apart in the last two 600's, so let's go with a price slightly cheaper than Kyle's number due to the perceived uncertainty/unreliability of the engine. Edwards -140 in this one.
#99 Carl Edwards vs. #16 Greg Biffle: With an average finish of 7.5 overall and finishes of 3rd, 1st and 5th in the other three similarly configured tracks so far, Biffle will easily be the favorite in this matchup. As mentioned in the Stewart matchup, Edwards also has solid finishes at the 1.5-milers this year and Biffle's recent record in the Coke 600's has been spotty, but "The Biff" should be no lower than -140 in this teammate battle.
#16 Greg Biffle vs. #17 Matt Kenseth: Talk about a battle of teammates, this one pits the two most consistent drivers in the series with only two points separating them in the overall standings. They are just as close in overall average finish and driver rating as well, but Kenseth does have the edge in terms of most recent Charlotte performance while Biffle has it so far this year with his finishes of 3rd, 1st and 5th at Vegas, Texas and Kansas. Only the qualifying difference will make Biffle the favorite in this one, but I prefer Kenseth in a race like the 600. Still, Biffle at -120 in this great matchup.
#17 Matt Kenseth vs. #11 Denny Hamlin: Denny and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have been really coming on strong recently with three top 5's in the last four races including a win at Kansas. At first thought, this looks like a Matt Kenseth runaway, but Hamlin has been a little under the radar in terms of his performance so far this season. These two are almost as evenly matched as the previous matchup which was surprising to me when I saw the numbers. Hamlin is also 2-1 vs. Kenseth at the three similar tracks but I like Kenseth and this team a little more due to his previous 600 mile finishes. Matt Kenseth -135 over Denny Hamlin here.
#11 Denny Hamlin vs. #29 Kevin Harvick: Mr. "Where did he come from?" Harvick surprised everyone in last year's 600 with that most improbable victory as he motored passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the tri-oval on the final lap. This matchup also surprised me before looking into it as Harvick has been surprisingly stronger overall than Hamlin at the 1.5-mile tracks so far with his finishes of 11th, 9th and 6th and an overall driver rating of 105.8 to Hamlin's 92.8. These two are also neck and neck at Charlotte recently so this matchup is as pick 'em as it gets. Both drivers at -115 in this one.
#29 Kevin Harvick vs. #24 Jeff Gordon: I know I sure don't know what it is, so I can only imagine what Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team must be thinking. There is just something missing with this team up to this point, as they head to Charlotte with an average finish of 22.8 and more finishes outside of 30th than inside of 12th. They did manage a solid 4th place at Texas earlier this season, but also go to a track where they have three straight finishes of 20th or worse. They will turn this around and perhaps they can start this Sunday, but with this type of inconsistent performance, Kevin Harvick can be no less than -150 in this matchup.
#24 Jeff Gordon vs. #5 Kasey Kahne: Maybe if any driver feels Jeff Gordon's pain it's his teammate Kasey Kahne who started off the season with horrible luck and subsequent poor finishes. At least the team, and all of Kahne's fans, saw that their cars were fast week in and week out which is the first step in noticing if a team is on the verge of success. That is exactly what has happened recently with five consecutive top 10 finishes for this No. 5 Hendrick team. Track stats, as well as season stats, are very close, but the momentum is all in Kahne's favor at this point so he has to be no lower than -135 in this matchup.
#5 Kasey Kahne vs. #88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Fans and the media alike need to stop focusing on this winless streak and focus on how consistently good this No. 88 team has been so far this year. Both Biffle and Kenseth have a finish higher than Dale Jr.'s worst season finish of 17th which happened most recently at Darlington. Before winning races, you need to be in contention to do so, and this team has been doing just that so far this year. This type of consistency is perfect for a race such as the 600, proved by how close this 88 team came to winning in last year's event. This is a close matchup based on performance and current form, but Dale Jr. should be no less than -145 over his teammate.
#88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. vs. #2 Brad Keselowski: Well, on the surface this looks like a complete one-sided mismatch based upon this year's results on the other 1.5-mile tracks. BK sports two 30th plus finishes and an average of 26.3 and if it were not for his two victories at Bristol and Talladega, his 15.4 overall average would be knee deep in the 20's. The surface holds true here as this is a top 10 to top 5 car vs. a top 15 car so if Dale Jr. comes any less than -180 in this matchup I will be shocked. UPDATE: Keselowski had two solid practices, so this price should come down to Dale Jr. at -150.
#2 Brad Keselowski vs. #56 Martin Truex, Jr.: And another matchup I simply do not understand, as Truex, Jr. and his Michael Waltrip Racing team have been nearly as consistent overall as his ex DEI Racing teammate in the No. 88 car. This 56 NAPA team simply dominated the most recent 1.5-mile track at Kansas only to come home with a disapointing 2nd behind Denny Hamlin and also sports an average of 8.3 overall on the other similar tracks so far. Dale Jr. should be -130 over Truex, Jr. so let's go with the NAPA team at -155 over Keselowski. UPDATE: Small adjustment to Truex at -145 here.
#56 Martin Truex, Jr. vs. #15 Clint Bowyer: We have a decent battle between teammates in this one, but it looks a little one-sided as well unfortunately. The Five-Hour Energy team came on strong in this year's first 1.5-mile race at Vegas but have regressed since then while his teammate has really stepped it up, and now holds the edge in overall average, overall similar track average and driver rating. I would prefer Clint Bowyer over Keselowski, so let's knock down the NAPA team just slightly to -150 over the Five-Hour Energy crew. UPDATE: Small adjustment to Truex at -140 here.
#15 Clint Bowyer vs. #39 Ryan Newman: Much like Bowyer, Newman's finishes at the most recent 1.5-mile venues have regressed with a 20th and 21st following his 4th place at Vegas. This matchup is much more equal in terms of potential performance at Charlotte as there are not any distinguishing stats moving any driver over the other. The "Army" on the hood factor on Memorial Day Weekend makes me lean to Newman at -120 in this matchup.
#39 Ryan Newman vs. #55 Mark Martin: This is basically the exact same matchup as the most previous one as Mark Martin is a teammate of Clint Bowyer. Even though Martin is not running a full 36 race season, he is being given solid equipment and has very similar overall results to Bowyer so far this season, so Martin has to have the edge due to his "swagness" to the tune of -135 against Newman.
#55 Mark Martin vs. #22 A.J. Allmendinger: Now this is a very interesting matchup to say the least as A.J. and his Pennzoil team are coming off a most impressive performance in last week's All-Star race. Allmendinger is also rolling up with two most recent finishes of 7th and 5th at Charlotte driving for Richard Petty Motorsports last season. However, this Roger Penske team has not had it figured out so far with finishes of 37th, 15th, and 32nd in the first three 1.5-mile tracks and the price in this matchup has to reflect this. I would have thought A.J. as a favorite at first, but Martin should come in at -130 in this one.
#22 A.J. Allmendinger vs. #20 Joey Logano: In a contract year and with the recent rumors of Kurt Busch possibly taking over his ride in 2013, it is surely time for Joey Logano and his Home Depot/Dollar General team to make a statement this Sunday. And what better of a venue for it? For some reason, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been Joey's best statistical track so far in his young career, holding an 8.2 average finish in his first six races here. He also holds an overall statistical edge so far this season and should be in the -130 to -140 area that Martin should be. Logano is a solid long shot selection for Sunday as well with all these rumors recently surrounding this team.
|Joey and his team have been great at Charlotte. (Getty)|
#20 Joey Logano vs. #31 Jeff Burton: As much as I like Jeff Burton at Charlotte, most of his success was with Jack Roush behind the No. 99 Exide car. I thought this team would have performed much better so far this year, as they are very close to Bobby Labonte's team in terms of average finish as amazing as that sounds. Bettors cannot have faith in Burton this weekend even though these two are pretty close so far on similar tracks. I would favor Joey Logano -140 in this matchup. UPDATE: Small adjustment to Logano at -150 here.
#31 Jeff Burton vs. #1 Jamie McMurray: Here is yet another sneaky driver this Sunday at Charlotte with Jamie McMurray. I personally will never forget Jamie grabbing the injured Sterling Marlin's No. 40 Coor's Lite Dodge to his first victory in only his 2nd career start in the series at the fall Charlotte race to the tune of 50-1. Both these drivers are very similar in terms of performance so far this year, but Jamie Mac has a solid edge of 12 vs. 21.7 average finish in the three previous 1.5-mile races and should get the money on Sunday night. Same price as Joey Logano here, so McMurray and his Bass Pro Shops team as -140.
#1 Jamie McMurray vs. #42 Juan Montoya: This is a pretty decent matchup between teammates as both have had similarly overall mediocre results with only McMurray holding a solid performance edge at the previous 1.5-mile tracks. McMurray's driver rating is more than 20 points better as well, so he has to be no lower than -135 in this one.
#42 Juan Montoya vs. #9 Marcos Ambrose: As impressive as Ambrose and Richard Petty Motorsports were during the first practice and eventually qualifying 2nd (behind his teammate), this team's performance has been more geared to top 15's than top 10's or better so far this year at similar tracks. However, coming on the heels of a 6th and a 5th place finish at Charlotte last year along with their front row start, Ambrose is the easy favorite in this matchup and most likely a little higher than he should be. Players will look to back this driver on Sunday, so Ambrose should open no less than -155. UPDATE: Ambrose should climb to -170 in this matchup.
#9 Marcos Ambrose vs. #27 Paul Menard: You have to prefer the RCR car of Menard over the Montoya piece overall, and Menard has easily outperformed teammate Jeff Burton so far this year as a barometer. These two drivers are also very close statistically with only Ambrose holding the edge with last year's Charlotte results. Menard is 2-1 vs. Ambrose on similar tracks so far and with both up front to start, let's go with the Australian at -125 here. UPDATE: Ambrose should climb to -140 in this matchup.
UPDATE: This race looks to be a battle between Jimmie Johnson, all three Roush-Fenway Racing drivers (16,17,99) and the Michael Waltrip Racing drivers (15,55,56). Mark Martin looks to have the most value for a potential race winner as well with odds in the 18-1 or higher range.
Have a wonderful and very safe Memorial Day weekend everyone! Could there be any more racing for all of us to enjoy? My alarm is already set for 4:30 a.m. PAC for Monaco on Sunday morning.