Coco-Cola 600 Update: Keep eye on Suarez

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

Memorial Day Weekend provides some of the biggest motorsports events of the year. Early Sunday, the F1 series will start the day with the Monaco Grand Prix, which is followed by the historical Indy 500. Following those two major racing events is the grueling Coca-Cola 600 from NASCAR’s home in Charlotte, N.C.

The Coca-Cola 600 is a test of the ability to handle both mental and mechanical stress. Once the 500-mile mark is eclipsed, there are often displays of breakdowns for both man and machine. However, for the driver and team that can come out on top, they are forever recognized as winners of one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races.

As the weekend has developed, Mother Nature has played a significant role by washing out one of the two crucial post-qualifying practice sessions. This is a major factor because almost every team was exclusively in qualifying setup in the initial practice session held on Friday. This meant that only one practice session could be dedicated to race setup. This plays a role into our ability to handicap as there is less overall information to analyze. Not only is there less information to extract but the quality of the information is marginal due to the likelihood of a vast temperature difference between practice and race conditions. As we have discussed, there are times when we can apply what we have learned over the weekend and other instances where the practice results should be taken lightly. This is one of the weekends when practice results really should not play a major factor into our overall handicapping. 

Below we will take a look at many of the contenders entering into Sunday’s race and how they are poised to perform.

Kyle Busch (plus 250): Starting from the pole, Busch perhaps has his best chance to get his first win at Charlotte. He will need to avoid trouble and stay focused. He deserves to be the favorite, but at odds this low, he is simply too much of a gamble.

Martin Truex (plus 250): If you want to wager on a driver with the best recent track history, there is no need to look beyond Truex. He has been outstanding at Charlotte over the last four races, and no other driver has even been close. However, as we have discussed, Truex has not had the same level of success this season as compared to last. If there is any track where Truex can put #78 team back on a winning course, it is Charlotte. 

Kevin Harvick (3-1): The leading driver on the circuit will have his work cut out for him. Harvick was penalized for not passing inspection and will be forced to start from 39th position. No Charlotte race has been won from that deep in the field. Plus Harvick and his team were suspended for 30 minutes during practice. The present odds of 3-1 in no way capture the value of what it would take to win.  

Kyle Larson (5-1): The odds on Larson are short considering what we learned over the last couple of weeks. Larson did have the best run in any Chevy on a 1.5-mile track when he led over 100 laps at Kansas Speedway a couple of weeks ago. However, as we found out, he had a significant advantage as the rear-window brace collapsed and gave him an illegal aerodynamic edge on the competition. Although Larson appears to be fast this weekend, there are few facts to justify his odds of 5-1. Larson has the talent to win, but his car will need to be up to the task and having to deal with an extra 100 miles does not simplify that task.

Erik Jones (10-1): Starting from the 4th position, Jones has a good shot to get his first win this weekend. Jones had the fastest car over the long runs during practice. If Jones can run a mistake-free race both on the track and on pit road, it will not be surprising to see him in serious contention for the win. His current odds are at the threshold of value, based on his performance this weekend. Odds of more than 10-1 would provide excellent value on this emerging driver.

Brad Keselowski (12-1): Starting in the 5th position, Keselowski looks to improve on his recent performances at Charlotte. He has showed decent speed this weekend. Based on his odds, there appears to be stronger value on other drivers at the same price. 

Joey Logano (12-1): Lined up on the outside pole, Logano will be going for his second career win at Charlotte. Logano has been a top-3 driver over the last six races this season. Although Logano has not had a tremendous amount of success at Charlotte, he appears to be well placed to have a good run in the 600. Based on what we know, Logano is a better value than his teammate Keselowski at the same price.  

Ryan Blaney (12-1): Blaney hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, based on his 2017 performance. He has not had a wealth of experience at Charlotte, and his finishes have not been stellar. Normally I see Blaney as a deep contender based on his weekend progression. But this weekend, he has not shown the speed to consider him at current odds.

Denny Hamlin (12-1): From what we have seen this weekend, Hamlin appears to be one of the strongest cars on the track. He is starting in a prime spot. Hamlin provides solid winning value at 12-1 and looks to have among the top 3-5 cars.

Daniel Suarez (35-1): Suarez has been hot over the past several races, including last week at Charlotte. There is no doubt that he is on the fast track to victory. At odds of 35-1 -- or in some cases much more -- Suarez offers a lot of value. I expect Suarez to be in contention for the win as the race comes to a close.

Below are the two matchups that have made the cut for this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson (plus 110):

Daniel Suarez (-130): Suarez is the selection based on what we have seen over the last several races and the progression of the weekend.

Kevin Harvick (-125):

Kyle Busch (plus 105): Based on lineup position, and factors related to Harvick’s weekend as detailed above, Busch is the selection.

Top #25 Power Ranking for the Coca Cola 600

  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  2. Kevin Harvick
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Kyle Larson
  6. Joey Logano
  7. Erik Jones
  8. Daniel Suarez
  9. Ryan Blaney
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Aric Almirola
  12. Kurt Busch
  13. Brad Keselowski
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Jamie McMurray
  16. Ryan Newman
  17. Austin Dillon
  18. Clint Bowyer
  19. Paul Menard
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  21. Matt Kenseth
  22. William Byron
  23. Alex Bowman
  24. Kasey Kahne
  25. Darrell Wallace Jr.



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