The season’s most grueling race is nearly here. Outside of the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte provides the biggest spectacle of the NASCAR season. Anything can happen over the course of 600 miles, and the Sprint Cup drivers will prove that again on Sunday.
Will Joe Gibbs Racing cash in after a huge week at CMS? What can NASCAR fans expect from the new DraftKings daily fantasy games? Can anyone snap Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick’s domination at 1.5-mile tracks? Here’s a look at all of that and more for the Charlotte race.
When: Sunday, May 24, 2015, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Performance Racing Network
Spread (via Sportsbook.ag): Kevin Harvick 7-2; Jimmie Johnson 5-1; Brad Keselowski 7-1; Kurt Busch 7-1; Matt Kenseth 8-1
2. Daily Fantasy Begins
Sunday marks a new era in NASCAR with the unveiling of DraftKings daily fantasy games. The strategy is easy to understand, but has new tweaks thrown in to make it more enticing for traditional fantasy owners.
Different variables like pass differential and fastest laps account into the scoring, so players will want to do their homework before making a deposit. If you don’t feel like doing all the dirty work, just refer to our ideal lineup picks for the Coca-Cola 600.
3. Gibbs Gunning For Charlotte Sweep
Just over a week after Denny Hamlin took the pole and eventually the Sprint All-Star race, JGR has maintained that momentum. Of the top five drivers in the starting order, Gibbs has three with Matt Kenseth on the pole along with Carl Edwards and Hamlin at third and fifth, respectively.
Both Hamlin and Kenseth have already won races this season, but remaining in the top five for Edwards would be a massive accomplishment. Given the team’s new speed on intermediate tracks, every Gibbs machine—Kyle Busch included—will make an impact on Sunday night.
4. Champion’s Stranglehold
Over the last seven races on intermediate tracks, only two drivers have come away with victories. Those two racers also just so happen to be 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick and 2013 champion Jimmie Johnson.
Those 1.5-mile courses are important when it comes to winning a title, kids.
Prior to the All-Star race, Johnson took his fourth 1.5-mile win in the last six races at the tracks. Meanwhile, Harvick took the most important intermediate course win last season in Homestead-Miami to secure a title in 2014 and won two in a row earlier this season. Let’s just say they might be drivers to watch on Sunday evening.
5. Full Circle for Gordon?
The first win of Jeff Gordon’s illustrious career came during the longest race in the sport. His triumph in 1994 triggered a run of outstanding seasons that included his first championship in the following season.
Gordon enters Sunday with only one more chance to clinch his third Coke 600 and is still looking for his first win of the 2015 season. It’s a perfect storm for Gordon, but he’ll have to take down the Toyotas to get to Victory Lane. Ironically enough, Toyota was not a NASCAR manufacturer when Gordon got his start.
Jimmie Johnson. In NASCAR, that name is synonymous with excellence and winning on a regular basis. At the track that was formerly sponsored by Lowe’s—his primary sponsor—Johnson regularly blistered the field to win the 600-mile race.
Early in his career, Johnson took three straight wins from 2003 through 2005. Then it all just stopped abruptly—until last year. Coming into this year’s race as the defending winner and in search of his fifth win in the event, Johnson will be a force to be reckoned with on Sunday.
Some drivers just know how to step up on the big stage. Jamie McMurray is a perfect example with a Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Sprint All-Star race checkered flags. He’ll look to add to that massive list on Sunday with a Coke 600 trophy to bring back to the shop.
He didn’t qualify well on Thursday, but McMurray will have no problem finding his way up to the top 10 and potentially up near the front. Whether he can catch Johnson or Harvick will be the biggest question, but this Chip Ganassi Racing driver will factor into the massive race if he can keep a clean car.
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