After a off weekend (sort of) last week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers are back in action for the 13th points paying race of the season. It also happens to be the year’s longest race with 600 miles of action for the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET/FOX/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
This is one of the major races, so that alone leads to plenty of storylines. Here are the top five.
Midway Mark Of Regular Season
With there being 26 races run in the regular season, Sunday is the official halfway mark of this year’s regular season. So far, we’ve only had six drivers win in the first 12 races, the same amount as this time a year ago. But, unlike 2018, we have two main organizations, rather than three main drivers as the main challengers for this year’s championship.
Joe Gibbs Racing has won seven of the first 12 races of the season and have seen their current crop of drivers win this race in two of the last three years.
Team Penske has won four of the remaining five races with Brad Keselowski winning three times including two weeks ago in Kansas.
Other than that, the only other team to have won in 2019 has been Hendrick Motorsports (Chase Elliott) at Talladega.
That has the bubble wide open then too. Jimmie Johnson holds the 16th and final spot but only leads Ryan Newman by just eight points. Austin Dillon, a former ‘600 winner, is 11 points back in 18th. Johnson’s HMS teammate of William Byron is only 15 points back as he enters Sunday’s race with some major momentum.
With this being the midway point of the regular season, we’re going to start talking a lot about points moving forward.
This time last year was the point when the current rules package was introduced as a possibility for the future. See, NASCAR ran a version of it in the all-star race at Charlotte. Less than a year later, the rules package was adopted for all 36 points paying races.
While we can certainly say that this rules package hasn’t necessarily helped the racing like we all intended it to, there are some tracks to where it has helped, including the last points paying race two weeks ago in Kansas.
That race was finally thrilling and one of the better races on the season. Will this weekend’s be the same?
Last year’s All-Star race was really good and Charlotte is a night time race, so a night race with this package has proven to work.
Plus, this race needed some spicing up to do. Kyle Busch led 377 of the 400 laps in this race last year. Martin Truex Jr, led 233 laps in the 2017 race while also leading 393 of 400 laps in his win in the ‘600 in 2016.
If this package is going to be a success, lets see if no one dominates this weekend.
This race being ‘600 miles has been debated lately if it’s too long. See, in the past, a 600 mile race was a feat to be accomplished. It was a true test of man vs. machine vs. track. These days, all the drivers will tell you, because of their fitness levels, they can easily race 600 miles. That’s not an issue. Then there’s the cars which can easily last 600 miles too.
Back in the day, racing 600 miles was grueling. Plus, the cars weren’t as reliable then as they are now.
That knocks the novelty of the ‘600 down. It’s just a race that is 100 miles longer than others. Also, when you see drivers dominate this event like they have in years past, it gets to be a race that lasts too long.
Busch, Truex Show?
Combined, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have won five races this season. They’ve also been the top drivers on the Charlotte oval lately too. Busch, has two straight top two finishes on the oval including dominating this race a year ago. He has 16 top 10 finishes in his last 22 oval starts at Charlotte. With how well he’s done this season, his No. 18 Toyota certainly will be found up front.
So will Truex’s No. 19 Toyota. In his last seven Charlotte oval starts, he has six top five finishes including five of which being in the top three. He’s led 626 laps in his last three ‘600 starts. He’s finished fifth, first, third and second respectively in his last four ‘600 starts overall.
With how well he’s driving on the season, watch out for him on Sunday too.
Toyota has won three of the last four ‘600’s, so look for these two to be in the running to make it four of five on Sunday night.
Penske Eyeing 2nd ‘600 Win, Ganassi Wanting Their 1st
It’s hard to believe, but Team Penske has only won the Coca-Cola 600 once before. That was back in 2010 with Kurt Busch The storied organization has dominated the Indy 500 over the years, but on the NASCAR Side of the double, they’ve once tasted victory once.
What about Chip Ganassi Racing?
They’ve never won the ‘600. Combined, these two organizations have 21 Indy 500 triumphs, but just one Coca Cola 600 victory.
Will that change on Sunday?
Joey Logano leads the points standings but since his last top five finish in the fall race of 2016, he’s finished ninth, 36th, 21st, 26th and 22nd respectively. Plus, he was only 15th on the last points paying race at Kansas two weeks ago.
Ryan Blaney has struggled too. He’s never finished in the top five on the Charlotte oval and has five finishes of 20th or worse in seven tries on the 1.5-mile track. Also on the season, Blaney has four finishes of 15th or worse including five of his last six starts on the season.
That leaves Brad Keselowski on the Penske side. He struggled heading into Kansas two weeks ago with five straight races without a top five. But, he still won. At Charlotte, he has five top 10 finishes in his last seven oval starts to go along with two top five’s in his last three there overall.
Keselowski’s their best bet but the odds say they won’t win still.
Ganassi, may have better luck.
Kurt Busch has been strong this season and has six top 10 finishes in his last seven tries on the Charlotte oval. In the May race, Busch won this race in 2010 and has seen top 10 finishes since that 2010 win.
His teammate Kyle Larson enters this weekend on the heels of two straight top 10 finishes on the season to go along with three top 10 finishes in his last four Charlotte oval starts.