Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Coca-Cola 600 Practice Notes & Final Driver Ratings: Kurt Busch has some serious speed

Kurt Busch was way faster than anyone in Saturday's final practices 
Kurt Busch is situated nicely to win his first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 2010 after laying down the fastest lap in each of Saturday’s final practices in preparation for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

Busch’s lap under cooler conditions of the early session at 192.644 mph was almost a full mph faster than the next fastest, Matt Kenseth. In the afternoon session, Busch’s lap at 188.653 mph was 1.6 mph faster the second-fastest Kasey Kahne. This is a continuation from last week’s All-Star Race practices where Busch looked like the driver to beat until finishing third.

The most surprising angle from Saturday’s practices was how mortal Kevin Harvick looked on a 1.5-mile track with only the 30th and 10th fastest lap between the two sessions, which is easily his worst effort on these types this season.

On one side, you can look at it as everyone else is catching up to his dominance that has seen him finish second or better on the four 1.5s this season and seven straight dating back the last season. It’s obvious the Joe Gibbs are stronger than ever at the moment following Denny Hamlin’s All-Star win and Matt Kenseth sitting on the pole this week.

But from another view, you can also partially assume that Harvick’s crew was working on some different schemes in anticipation of the track running under much different conditions at night, in the final 200 miles, as opposed to day when it starts and also when every practice has been run.

It’s hard to believe that with all of Harvick’s recent success on these tracks that they have fallen so far down the charts without doing anything out of the ordinary because of the unique climate changes in Sunday’s race. He’s also using chassis that won twice last season and led 116 laps at Atlanta on March 1.

Still, you have to trust speed and who has it no matter what time of day the practices were run and because of Busch topping the charts one week after looking so dominant in average speeds, he gets the slight nod over both Jimmie Johnson and Harvick as the driver to beat Sunday.

Johnson had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average during the early session and Kahne was tops during the afternoon.

Denny Hamlin didn’t show great speed like teammates Kenseth and Carl Edwards, but he had the second fastest 10-consecutive lap average in the final session. Kyle Busch should be competitive as well Sunday, but he’s a tough driver to wager on to win or match-ups because he may have a situation where he’s fatigued and needs a driver switch. Erik Jones was fitted for a seat and turned a few laps in the No. 18 during the final session.

Even though a lot can happen during those last 100 miles of this race, the cream has usually risen to the top of this race with the last real upset coming in 2009 with David Reutimann winning. The past five winners have been Johnson, Harvick, Kahne, Harvick again and Kurt Busch, and they gave indications in practice they could win. And come to think of it, so did Reutimann, but he wasn't a popular betting choice.

Video: Roberts talks Coca-Cola 600 odds from the South Point

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Coca-Cola 600 
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Saturday, May 24, 2015 -  3:15 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS             PRAC 1    QUALIFIED    PRAC 2    PRAC 3
 1. Kurt Busch 7/1                    19th         14th           1st        1st 
2010 winner; continued smoking speeds from All-Star week into final practices Saturday. 
 2. Jimmie Johnson 6/1             2nd         13th           3rd       11th  
Seven time winner; will be fourth driver ever to lead 1,000 laps in Coca-Cola 600 with 10 laps led.
 3. Kevin Harvick 3/1                 4th           8th           30th       10th 
Three-time winner; had worst practice of season, but is using chassis that won twice in 2014. 
 4. Matt Kenseth 15/1              16th           1st            2nd        5th 
Two-time winner with 13.6 average finish; best candidate to get non-chevy a win on 1.5-mile track.
 5. Joey Logano 7/1                 20th          2nd           10th       13th  
Active leader with 10th-place average over 12 starts; has led 179 laps on 1.5-mile tracks in 2015.
 6. Brad Keselowski 7/1            6th            6th            5th        8th 
2013 fall winner; won three times on 1.5s in 2014, best of 2015: fifth with 27 laps led at Texas.
 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 15/1      11th          15th          11th      24th  
No wins in 30 career starts; using fourth-place Vegas chassis that won twice at Pocono in 2014.
 8. Kasey Kahne 20/1                3rd          33rd           9th        2nd  
Four-time winner with 11.4 average finish -- he loves this place; using eighth-place Texas chassis.
 9. Carl Edwards 20/1               1st            3rd           27th       9th 
No wins, but has second best average finish (11.2) among all active drivers; Gibbs cars are fast!
10. Martin Truex Jr. 20/1          14th         10th          16th        6th 
No top-five finishes in 19 starts, but has finished ninth or better on all four 1.5-mile tracks in 2015.

Note: This is the fifth of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. The major difference here is that it’s the longest race of the year with three different climate changes (day, dusk, night) and none of the practice session were run at dusk or night.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

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