Coca-Cola 600 Preview
May 22, 2013
By Micah Roberts
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Jimmie Johnson showed last week during the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway that someone could finally compete with the Joe Gibbs cars on 1.5-mile tracks. Until Johnson's win Saturday night, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth had won on all three mile-and-a-half tracks, and they also combined to win on the 2-mile track at Fontana and the 1.336-mile layout at Darlington.
It appears that several teams are catching up with the high standards the Joe Gibbs teams have set in the Gen-6 car. Although the All-Star race is a completely different format with only 90 laps run and several stops in action, Johnson and teammate Kasey Kahne will be right up there battling for the Coca-Cola 600 win Sunday night.
Johnson has won the Memorial Day weekend race three times and has won at Charlotte six times over his career. He swept the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 in 2003. However, he hasn't had a top-10 finish in the Coca-Cola 600 since 2007.
A recent repave at Charlotte has something to do with Johnson's recmt struggles at Charlotte, something that he acknowledges.
"We knew, literally, what time in the afternoon, what adjustment needed to be made to the car, and it was like clockwork, didn't matter the year, just every single time," said Johnson.
"It's not that way anymore."
Kahne is a four-time winner at Charlotte and comes in with runner-up finishes to Kenseth at the 1.5-mile tracks in Las Vegas and Kansas. Kahne becomes a great candidate to win Sunday not only because his success at Charlotte and other 1.5-mile tracks this season, but also because of winning this race last season.
As good a run that we should see out of Johnson and Kahne this week, it's still hard to go against the Gibbs cars, which also includes Denny Hamlin. Until we see someone knock them off on a big horsepower track, why go against them. We can say that the All-Star gave an indication that others are catching up, but until seeing it in a real race, it's hard to not go with the Gibbs cars.
Kyle Busch has never won at Charlotte, but man, he's been real close. He's finished in the top-5 in eight of his last 11 starts at Charlotte, including his last three starts. He also won at Texas, which is probably the track most similar to Charlotte.
Kenseth is a two-time winner at Charlotte, the last coming in 2011. He won his first career race in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600 as a rookie. He's the 6-to-1 co-favorite to win this week with Johnson and Busch.
Hamlin should be given strong consideration this week because he's getting healthier, and he's got the same equipment as Busch and Kenseth. Last season Hamlin was runner-up in both Charlotte races.
One long shot that should be considered is Greg Biffle, who will be using a chassis that captured his only top-5 of the season at Texas. Biffle has never won at Charlotte, but he did finish fourth in both races last season. 15-to-1 isn't that big of a long shot, but when you're dealing with such dominant cars like the Gibbs crew, everyone seems like a long shot.
Before the Coca-Cola 600 starts, the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place. Here in Las Vegas, we have seen a major transformation over the years with the betting handle rapidly declining on the Indy 500. It mirrors IndyCar racing's popularity probelms around the country. However, it's still a great event and if action is going to be taken on it, we might as well bet it.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #25 Marco Andretti (15/1)
2) #27 James Hinchcliffe (7/1)
3) #9 Scott Dixon (5/1)
4) #10 Dario Franchitti (8/1)
5) #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay (10/1)
1) #20 Matt Kenseth (6/1)
2) #5 Kasey Kahne (8/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)