NASCAR is heading into its fastest race this Memorial Day weekend, heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. Yep, you read that right. This race will be 600 miles on a 1.5 mile track, making a total of 400 miles for these drivers. It’s a test of endurance for the pit crews, the track itself and, more importantly, the drivers themselves. It’s a night race, so it won’t be hell on earth inside these cars. But it’s still a long time to be stuck in these machines.
Last year, Denny Hamlin’s No.11 took victory over Charlotte, having taken pole and moved up to lead the closing laps. No. 1 Ross Chastain led the most laps with 153 but finished 15th overall. This is a race where anything can happen and has seen a spread of different winners over the past few races on the course.
As usual, I’ll give you five drivers (or in this case, six) that I think might be contenders to bring it home, or at the very least be an interesting watch. So, let’s dive right into who I’m looking at for the Coca-Cola 600!
#4 Kevin Harvick
Stewart-Haas, and Ford teams in general, have had a brutal 2023 season. The Fords hold just one win a year in Atlanta, and they just haven’t found consistency. Stewart-Haas have yet to find themselves in winning lane this year, and they just haven’t picked up the pace all season. This should frustrate no one more than future retiree Kevin Harvick. He was undoubtedly one of the most consistent drivers of Ford cars, but that doesn’t take long. But for what it’s worth, it ran well at Darlington. But last week in North Wilkesboro for the All-Star Race, he fell back to earth at 18.e.
Finding Fords to choose from each week has been particularly difficult, but Harvick has a promising story here. He’s finished in the top five twice at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with two more top 10s. Fords are hard to pick, but I think Harvick might be the best.
You can realistically put Larson in any lineup any week and you have a good chance of getting it right. He has two wins on the year, three if you count the All-Star Race last weekend. Plus, add in the many times he’s been destroyed, bumped, and screwed by others. He’s been by far the best car in the Cup Series this year, and Charlotte is a track that’s been great for him lately. He’s won here before with a weak ninth finish. He also holds a driver rating of 120.7. The next closest is teammate Chase Elliot with 114.7. So yeah, No. 5 is pretty solid here and will be a solid bet for this weekend. And probably every weekend to come.
#11 Denny Hamlin
Winning last year’s edition pretty much earns me a self-nomination, but let’s not forget how great Hamlin has been this year. The #11 has always been one of the fastest cars in the Cup Series. He won his first race at Kansas, but he still ran ahead of most if not all races at some point. It’s a safe bet that he will be there at the end, alongside his teammates #23 Bubba Wallace of 23XI who has been on a hot streak lately, and #19 Martin Truex Jr of Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin is my favorite of the Toyotas, but there are plenty of great names to choose from.
#48 Alex Bowman
I feel like with his return, Alex Bowman fits the purpose of these pieces. It’s his first race since fracturing his vertebra last month, and he’s back as Hendrick Motorsports expected. Bowman before the injury was racing as the points leader and having perhaps his most consistent season to date in the #48 car. Injuries are unfortunately something the HMS team has had to deal with throughout the season, starting with the absence of Chase Elliott with his broken leg. Berry performed admirably and has just secured a new contract with Stewart-Haas to possibly take over the #4 car next year.
But this is Bowman the Showman. It’s a difficult race to resume, after a brutal injury, over 600 miles, not ideal. But he always ran well on this track. He finished in the top five and an additional top 10 in five races overall. As well as the third best driver rating of 99.1. He may not be the best candidate to take the win, but he’s someone to watch regardless as this is his first comeback race. We’ll see how quickly he can bounce back from that back injury and if he can get into winning ways and secure a playoff spot immediately.
#99 Daniel Suarez
The sleeper of the week; the lesser-known racer from Trackhouse Racing. Ross Chastain’s No. 1 has been making headlines this season. Getting into Larson’s grill and fighting after the Kansas race. But Suarez is someone to watch here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He rode quite well at this course last year, finishing 12e, leading 36 laps. He also had the sixth best driver rating of the day with a 97.3. His teammate had the highest, but I feel like Chastain is getting enough news as is.
I think Suarez is a valuable sleeper for this track and could surprise us all at this 600 mile race. He’s been quiet so far, a top five in California and three more top 10s. Watch out for No. 99 on Sunday, he could sneak into the lead at some point and be an unforeseen at the end of this test. endurance.
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