Coca-Cola 600 Preview
May 23, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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I used to have more wagers on Sunday's during Memorial Day weekend than any pro football Sunday. It was a gear-head paradise for people like me with the Formula-1 race on the streets of Monaco followed by the Indy 500 and then NASCAR's longest race of the season with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A triple-header like no other.
I still watch all three races with excitement, but I only follow the NASCAR Cup Series with attention to detail on everything going on in the series to the point I feel comfortable wagering my hard-earned money. For F-1 and the Indy cars, I'll still have a few small wagers, but it's just because I'll be up watching both of them and I want a driver or two to bet on.
Plus, breakfast with an F-1 race at Monaco is awesome television with the most amazing race cars in the world and they turn this beach side community into the place everyone wants to be, including me -- someday hopefully. I don't watch too many Formula-1 races, but I always watch Monaco because of the colors, the homes on the hillsides, the boats lined up in the harbor, the tunnel and the dressed up beautiful people everywhere. The prestige is what sets it apart from anything else. The race has been run since 1929 and it's considered one of the triple crowns of motor sports. One of the others in that group is the Indianapolis 500 and the green flag on it drops a few hours after the checkered flag waves in Monaco.
The Indy 500 has been running on the 2.5-mile layout in Speedway, Indiana since 1911. It is an American tradition and the annual race on Memorial Day Weekend has been billed as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I don't follow the series closely anymore, but I always watch this race. It's simply been a part of my life. It's embedded in me.
It's my birthday weekend and every year, I watch the Indy 500 and I celebrate all the fallen soldiers who sacrificed everything for my freedoms. I thank my grandfather Jay Roberts who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and my other Grandfather Paul Kukich who fought in Guadalcanal. Always and forever proud of them.
And then I watch the race. It's a routine that in many ways defines me. I love military history, I love my country, I'm proud of my own family history in this country and, of course, I also love auto racing. This day gives it all to me in a big package with a huge bow like no other.
As if the Monaco Grand Prix and Indy 500 weren't enough to satisfy my car racing thirst, I get my favorite auto racing series, NASCAR, to finish off my best Sunday of the year.
Lewis Hamilton won at Monaco last season and I'm going with him again to just barely beat Sebastian Vettel who won at Monaco in 2011. Fernando Alonso is a two-time winner at Monaco, but he's racing in a McLaran Andretti Honda in the Indy 500. He'll start fifth and will look to be the first F-1 champion to win the Indy 500 in 22 years. He's been fast in practice, and daring in some of his moves. He's been the talk of the month at the track and a few drivers have shown they're not too happy about the attention he's getting. I love it and wish more drivers jumped over to race the Indy 500. I wish NASCAR had a couple drivers participating.
Juan Pablo Montoya won at Monaco in 2003 and he won the Indy 500 in 2000 and 2015 and each time I posted it right here in this column. Just because he's my guy, I'm betting him again. No exact science like in the past, it's just a fan bet. My top wager will be on Scott Dixon who was fastest Sunday during the Fast 9 session with an average speed of 232.164 mph.
As for the NASCAR race, I'll have plenty of wagers with a thought process where I think I know what I'm doing unlike the other two races which is more just for fun. The thing that always stands out to me most each year for the Coca-Cola 600 is trying to figure out who will be fastest at the end after all the changing conditions from daylight, to dusk to night.
“It’s just a marathon mentality," said Las Vegan Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Ford. "It’s the exact opposite of the All-Star Race. The race starts during the daytime and, even if you’re getting behind early in the race – although you can’t get too far behind – it’s difficult to find a setup that works well at both the beginning and end of the race because of how much the track changes from start to finish. It’s the end of the race, though, when they hand out the points and the check, so you hope your car will race the same way at the end as it did for the All-Star Race, provided you had a good All-Star Race. The mentality is that it’s just pit stop after pit stop with long sequence after long sequence. The All-Star Race is a 100-yard dash. The 600 is a marathon.”
This is the fifth race of the season on a 1.5-mile track, not including last week's non-points All-Star race, and Martin Truex Jr. has won two of the previous four. Last season in this race, Truex put on the most amazing display of domination Charlotte Motor Speedway has ever seen. He led 392 of the 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600. He won on the last 1.5-mile track at Kansas two weeks ago and he also won at Las Vegas in March.
Kyle Larson is also going to be tough to beat. He doesn't have a win on a 1.5-mile track this season, but he's got three runner-ups and a sixth-place. He's also got a win on the 2-mile layout at Fontana and he dominated two stages last week in the All-Star Race last week at Charlotte. I'm looking for him to carry over a strong performance on Sunday night and get the win.
We can also expect Penske teammates of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to both be very good Sunday. Logano's 11.2 average finish is the best among all active drivers despite finishing 36th last fall. He won the fall Charlotte race in 2015. Keselowski won the fall Charlotte race in 2013 and has been ninth or better in the past four races. He was fifth in the Coca-Cola 600 last season. The duo has been outstanding on 1.5-mile tracks all season.
I've been waiting for Joe Gibbs Racing to show speed on 1.5-mile tracks and I finally got it with Kyle Busch winning the All-Star Race last weekend, but I'm still skeptical. That was a small sample size and no one else showed speed within the team. Busch just got a great jump on the final restart and used a slower car in front of him as a pick, and then he got clean air and only had to stay in the lead for 10 laps. I take note that he fast under the same night conditions as we may see Sunday night, but the fact also remains that Busch has never won a points Cup race at Charlotte.
Top-5 Coca-Cola 600 Finish Prediction:
1) #42 Kyle Larson (7/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (8/1)
3) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (7/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)