Coca-Cola 600 Preview
May 22, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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My favorite Sunday of the year is always Memorial Day weekend because it's jam-packed with auto racing with Formula 1 in the morning, Indy Cars in the afternoon and NASCAR to close it out with the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the season.
The racing from all three series has always been part of a family tradition, but the thing that stands out most is my grandfather teaching me early on about how special Memorial Day is telling me multiple stories of fallen friends from his time in World War II and Korea. And NASCAR gets it in a way my grandfather would have been proud of.
“There isn’t any sport that honors the military any better than NASCAR," Kevin Harvick said. "I know a lot of sports do a lot of things for our military but, when you roll into this particular weekend with the Coke 600 and you are a part of the celebration and remembrance for all the things that have happened with our military, to see the support that NASCAR and everybody in our garage gives the military, especially on this particular weekend, is something that gives you goosebumps. We are honored to carry the names (of fallen soldiers) on our cars.”
Another tradition that goes along with Memorial Day weekend is betting on the races and while I'll just watch Lewis Hamilton win without a wager, I have made a few bets on the Team Penske drivers in the Indianapolis 500 and I'll have the most bets on the NASCAR race which has been the case with me for over 25 years. The transition after Indy Car split with CART really had me lose interest but I still followed both series equally because I had to make odds for the betting public in Las Vegas to take a shot with.
As for the F-1 race on the streets of Monte Carlo, I don't need a wager to be entertained. I marvel at the power and handling of those machines -- Mercedes has won all five races this season -- and how they come ripping out of the tunnel and past the harbor with all those viewing parties happening on the hundreds of yachts. It's a scene I've always wanted witness live, but in my younger days when it was more probable to happen, I knew I would have difficulty finding the Coca-Cola 600 televised so late in Monaco. I can't ruin my perfect Sunday, right?
One of the best things I like about the Coca-Cola 600 is because of the changing conditions resulting from starting in daylight, moving to dusk, to twilight and then nightfall. The track changes and the crew has to be on it and it's awesome to watch a crew hit the last pit stop perfectly with winning adjustments. Last week there was some discussion among a few drivers that said the time has come to no longer race 600 miles, but I still think most like the tradition that was born in 1961 on Memorial Day weekend with the World 600.
"I like running the 600 miles," said Kyle Busch, who is the 7/2 favorite (Bet $100 to win $350) to win Sunday. "I think it brings a different aspect to our sport – its longevity. People will say, ‘It’s too long. It’s boring. Whatever.’ Well, you know, it’s a part of the product and the history that we’ve had on Memorial Day weekend for a long time that you run that extra hundred miles. And car preparation goes into that. Will your car make it? Will your engine last? Are the drivers able to be competitive throughout the whole race? You’ll have fatigue, sometimes, even at a 500-mile race. So, if you don’t show signs of weakness, you should be pretty good.”
The engine part is key because teams have to limit laps during practices so they don't push the limits and blow it late in races. The 600 miles has so many elements to it than any other race because of the distance.
“I love Memorial Day weekend," Kurt Busch said. "Motorsports takes center stage with Monaco, Indianapolis, and Charlotte. It just seems like a lot of great attention gets geared-up towards racing this weekend. With it being a very patriotic weekend, it’s a time to say thank you and reflect for all of those that have sacrificed for our country. With it being the 600, I love the tradition of the extra 100 miles and the toll that it puts on the cars, teams, and driver. It is genuinely a cool event and one of the marquee races in NASCAR.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to win it once before want to try and win it again. We’ve got a good GEARWRENCH Chevy that were bringing to the track this weekend. It’s helpful now that we are going to hit some of these tracks a second time with the team and that way we can jump ahead of some of the performance that we have already produced this year.”
Kurt Busch won the 2010 All-Star Race and followed it up with the Coca-Cola win the next weekend. He's 20/1 to win and offers much better value than team Kyle Larson (16/1) who won the All-Star Race last week. The package Larson won with will not be in use this week. The package NASCAR is using this week is the one they've used in five races this season -- the four 1.5-mile tracks and the 2-mile layout at Fontana. Kurt Busch has finished ninth or better in all five of those races. In the last race on a 1.5-mile track at Kansas, Busch was seventh and Larson was eighth.
It was in that Kansas race that I came to believe Stewart-Haas Racing is all better now as they brought new cars and all four drivers qualified 1-2-3-4. Harvick led a race-high 102 laps and clearly had the best car on the track before having a late issue and finishing 13th.
Clint Bowyer finished fifth at Kansas and led 12 laps. Bowyer has finished in the top-five in three of the four races on 1.5-mile tracks. I have both Harvick and Bowyer as two of the drivers I have keyed on this week.
Another team that has upped their game lately has been Hendrick Motorsports, especially Alex Bowman in the No. 88. He's finished second in his last three races and all three races used different packages. That's impressive and his odds reflect it weekly as he's down to 30-to-1.
“Driving 600-miles on Sunday will be tough in this heat, but I don’t think it is the most physically demanding," Bowman said. "I have said it before, but I think Dover is the most physically challenging event that we have. Sunday will be long and hot, but this 88 team can get it done. We have momentum from the past three races on our side and I know the guys back at the shop have been working endless hours on these cars. Hopefully, we unload pretty decent on Thursday and can get a good starting spot that night for Sunday’s race.”
Bowman's teammate Chase Elliott has top-fives in his last three starts, including the only win for Chevrolet this season (Talladega). Jimmie Johnson is an eight-time winner at Charlotte, the last in 2016, and he's been sixth or better in his last two races on 1.5-mile tracks.
The team that has done the best so far using this package has been the Penske Mustangs, in particular, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano who have combined to win three of the four races on 1.5-mile tracks. Logano was runner-up at Fontana and Keselowski was third. Other teams may have caught up to them, but I still feel they have an edge.
However, I'm looking for Harvick to breakthrough with his first win. Last season at this time he had five wins and then won the All-Star Race. Last year doesn't have anything to do with 2019, but his Kansas performance two weeks ago was enough proof for me that SHR has caught up.
Have a wonderful holiday, cheers.
Coca-Cola 600 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/2)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
5) #14 Clint Bowyer (14/1)