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Coca-Cola 600

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Okay fellow gear-heads, we've got one hell of a day of racing action ahead of us on Sunday. It's the ultimate motorsports day of the year for us, much like the first Thursday of the college basketball tournament or Super Bowl is for everyone else.

It starts bright and early as the sun rises with the Monaco Grand Prix Formula-One race (8:00 a.m. ET), then just as breakfast is served you get to watch the Indy 500 (12:00 p.m. ET) and just when you start to get hungry again and thirsty for a beer, NASCAR’s 12th race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600, takes center stage (6:15 p.m. ET). Man, this is going to be some kind of marathon, and truth be told, I’m likely to get thirsty closer to lap 50 of the Indy 500.

I wish I had some advice to offer on the two open-wheel races to start the day, but I don’t and it wouldn’t be fair to just throw some names down and opinions when I haven’t followed each series as close as I did when keeping my own ratings chart on all auto series when working for sports books. I know Lewis Hamilton is dominating again in F-1 and Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel are a notch below. In the IndyCar Series, I know the Penske Racing cars are the ones to beat and I’ve always liked Juan Pablo Montoya, so that’s who I’ll root for. I will watch both races regardless on my limited current knowledge on them and my only bet between the two races will be Montoya to win, who is listed at 7/1 (Bet $100 to win $700) at the Westgate SuperBook.

The Indy 500 has always been an important event every year of my life and that won’t change, but I’m certainly at the lowest point of interest I’ve ever had and I think millions of other Americans have kind of the same feeling. The betting here in Las Vegas has reflected it as well -- I've got only one bet myself. It was just 10 years ago when I offered three full pages of props at my books and scoured the city looking for any 'mistakes' at other books. Now I don't care as much and I couldn't clearly differentiate what a 'mistake' is.

However, NASCAR is an entirely different story as my interest seems to have grown and my rating chart has expanded to include more variables. I’m excited about seeing the longest race of the season, but also come in with hopes we don’t see the same type of racing we saw during the All-Star Race where there was very little passing -- only four different lap leaders. Get out from, and stay out from. That was the theme during Friday‘s qualifying races and Saturday‘s race.

So I guess the question is who is going to be able to get out front and be there at the end of 600 miles. Denny Hamlin’s win last week showed that Joe Gibbs Racing can compete on 1.5-mile tracks with the Stewart-Haas duo of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch as well as Hendrick Motorsports Jimmie Johnson. Harvick has finished first of second on four 1.5s so far this season and Johnson has won three of the four. Hamlin got the win, but it’s not a points race, so it kind of doesn’t count except for the big $1 million check he got.

But what we can take away from the All-Star Race was practice and how the cars moved during the race. Aside from Hamlin winning, Busch and Harvick were the most impressive. Jeff Gordon also performed better than Johnson, which is a good sign because he hadn’t fared too well on 1.5s, or at least early on. He’s progressively gotten better and had a best of fourth at the last one in Kansas.

With the race being so long, as always, it’s about who can adjust to changing conditions the best. The race starts in the day, then moves to dusk and then at night and all three changes alter the way to car handles.

Johnson’s crew won that battle last year which gave him fourth Coca-Cola 600 win and seventh overall at Charlotte, not including his four All-Star race wins. Johnson’s win last season was his first on a 1.5-mile track in 2014 and he would go onto win Texas later in the year. In 2015, he’s gone 3-for-4 already on them. He wasn’t impressive in the All-Star Race, but he’s a tough guy to go against at Charlotte.

Harvick won in the fall at Charlotte last season for his third career win there, and since then has finished second or better on all seven 1.5-mile tracks. The races he didn’t win, Johnson did. That’s a pretty telling stretch for both drivers making it hard to come up with reasons why they won’t win again this week.

The best argument for betting against them is Kurt Busch, who actually had his driver rating match Harvick’s on a 1.5-mile track for the first time this season. Busch had the fastest five and 10-consecutive lap averages during All-Star practice, and while his team is likely to use a different chassis this week, they have some great notes to apply and get them started in the right direction for Sunday night’s race.

Kyle Busch looked good Saturday night in his return and gave further evidence that JGR cars are getting close to being ready to halt Harvick and Johnson’s run. Sunday’s race will be his first official race of 2015 and he’ll be looking for his first career Charlotte Cup win. It’s surprising he doesn’t have one because he’s ran very well there with 10 top-five finishes in 22 starts.

Joey Logano has the best career average finish (10th) at Charlotte among all active drivers. He’s led 179 laps on the four 1.5s this season and won twice on them last season. His teammate, Brad Keselowski, won on them three times last season, but Harvick and Johnson have been hogging them all up lately. Both Penske drivers are right next to Kurt Busch as the most likely drivers to topple Harvick and Johnson.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (4/1)
3) #41 Kurt Busch (6/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)

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