The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Concord, North Carolina this week for the Coca-Cola 600. The race can be seen Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET on Fox. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fantasy Live game on nascar.com.
The Coca-Cola 600 was rather boring last year. Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of the 400 laps and scored 295 points in the Fantasy Live game all by himself. After watching the All-Star race last week, I expect the driver who takes the lead to be hard to pass Sunday night.
So far the driver who won the pole has led an average of 135.5 laps on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2017. The driver who wins the pole Thursday night should be the top pick in the Fantasy Live game. Clean air is very important at Charlotte and the leader of the race may not lose the lead until the driver is passed in the pits. That seems to be the best way to make a pass for the lead this season on the 1.5-mile tracks.
The Stages will also have a significant impact on the Fantasy Live game this week. Selecting drivers who can finish each Stage in the top 10 will be as important as selecting drivers who can score position differential points. If a driver finishes each Stage in fifth-place, the driver will earn 15 bonus points. A driver who wins each Stage will earn 30 bonus points. These points will add up quickly so fantasy players need to focus on them Sunday night.
My strategy this week will be to select as many dominator drivers (drivers who start up front with a good chance to lead laps and score fastest laps) as possible. The Coca-Cola 600 scores like a short track since there are 400 laps and 400 bonus points available for leading laps and fastest laps in the race. Fantasy teams who select the dominator drivers who lead laps, post fast laps and finish each Stage in the top 10 will have a huge score this week.
Brad Keselowski ($28.00) has been the most consistent driver this season. He has two wins (Atlanta and Martinsville) and finished nine of the 11 races in the top 10. Keselowski has an average finishing position of 2.5 on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. The No. 2 team is the best at working on their car and getting it up front at the end of the race. Keselowski will have a good chance to win his first Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night.
Martin Truex Jr. ($27.50) was the class of the field in this race last year. He led 392 of the 400 laps in one of the most dominating wins in NASCAR history. Truex has won five of the last 11 races on the 1.5-mile tracks. He leads the series in average finishing position, laps led and driver rating in races similar to Charlotte. Truex may not lead 98 percent of the laps again, but the No. 78 car should be in Victory Lane Sunday night.
Kevin Harvick ($27.25) runs well on the 1.5-mile tracks and Charlotte is one of his best. Harvick has finished four of the last six races at the track in the top two. He has not been as strong this season as he has been in the past, but his third-place finish at Kansas shows that the No. 4 team is starting to dial in the new Ford chassis. Harvick should be in the top five at the end of the race this week.
Jimmie Johnson ($26.75) needs one more win in the Coca-Cola 600 to match Darrell Waltrip with five wins in the NASCAR marathon event. His last win in this event came in 2014 when he started from the pole and led 164 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Johnson won on a similar track at Texas earlier this year and he won the last race at Charlotte. The No. 48 team will be a factor at the end of the race Sunday.
Chase Elliott ($26.75) will have a good chance to get to Victory Lane for the first time this week. The Coca-Cola 600 is notorious for producing first-time race winners. Some of the drivers who won their first race at Charlotte include David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), Matt Kenseth (2000), Casey Mears (2007) and David Reutimann (2009). Elliott competed in his first Coca-Cola 600 last year. He started 12th and finished eighth. I would not be surprised if he was in Victory Lane Sunday night.
Ryan Blaney ($20.75) will be a great choice this week. His price is low and his results on the 1.5-mile tracks are high. Blaney has scored the most points in Fantasy Live at the last two 1.5-mile tracks (Texas and Kansas). Blaney qualified 2nd, led 148 and finished 12th at Texas (134.5 Fantasy Live points). He won the pole, led 83 laps and finished fourth at Kansas (108.5 Fantasy Live points). Blaney will allow fantasy players to build a balanced lineup because of his cheap price.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($16.00) is another Roush Fenway Racing driver who is having a career year. He won his first race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega and followed it up with an 11th-place finish at Kansas. Stenhouse has finished two of his five starts in the Coca-Cola 600 in the top 13. This week he should get his first finish in the top 10 in the race.
Ty Dillon ($13.75) usually outperforms his price on 1.5-mile tracks. He has an average finishing position of 16.5 on these tracks this season. That is about where fantasy players should expect Dillon to finish this week. He has never competed in a 600-mile race, but I am not worried about him. Dillon will finish in the top 20 Sunday night.
Michael McDowell ($9.50) had the best race of his 2017 season at Kansas. McDowell started 35th and finished 13th. He scored 46 points in the Fantasy Live game. He also ran well at Las Vegas (started 26th and finished 18th). I suggest adding McDowell to your team if you have enough money to make him your fourth or fifth driver this week.
Elliott Sadler ($5.00) will be driving the No. 7 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing. He will be required to make the race on speed, but if he does Sadler will be a good choice for your team. He has had success on the 1.5-mile tracks in the Xfinity Series and he should finish in the top 30 this week.
Here are my pre-qualifying picks for the Coca-Cola 600:
Driver 1: Martin Truex Jr. $27.50
Driver 2: Clint Bowyer $21.00
Driver 3: Kurt Busch $21.00
Driver 4: Ryan Blaney $20.75
Driver 5: Michael McDowell $9.50
Pick to Win: Martin Truex Jr.
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) Saturday