A Seventh Time For “Five Time”?
Not only was the practice schedule completely idiotic this weekend, but NASCAR.com had technical difficulties (surprised?) so fantasy racers are even more in the dark for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. No average speeds were available for the first practice on Saturday, and I consider Happy Hour speeds as worthless due to it being ran at 1:00 pm with the race starting at 7:00 pm on Sunday. About all we have number-wise this weekend are one-fast-lap statistics and ten-lap averages. You can find all of those by clicking here. Also, with the teams so worried about limiting miles in practice, I’ve put together a “Lap Logger” for this weekend so you can see which drivers put on the most miles in all three practices this week. Click here to check that out.
Projected Start & Parkers: Stephen Leicht, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Cole Whitt, and Josh Wise. MAYBE David Stremme.
My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr., Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola
Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Coca-Cola 600:
11. Marcos Ambrose – Starts 2nd – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
This is the #9 team’s best qualifying effort of the season and it’s coming at a track where they have found success before. In the two Charlotte races in 2011, Ambrose finished 5th and 6th, and he also finished a solid 7th in this year’s All-Star race after starting 18th. Remember, a couple of weeks ago Marcos grabbed his best finish of the season (thus far) in Darlington with a surprising (to me) 9th-place effort. The #9 Ford was 11th on the practice chart in the first session on Saturday, and this is the same chassis that Ambrose finished 13th with at Las Vegas. It was also used at Texas, where Marcos was in the top 10 for much of the race (Yahoo! chart here) but ended up finishing 19th. That starting spot looks pretty nice, and I would have no objection at all taking a shot with Ambrose this weekend. Richard Petty Motorsports had this place figured out last season, posting top 10s in each race with both drivers.
12. Kevin Harvick – Starts 14th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Happy Harvick and the #29 team has been pretty good on the intermediate tracks in 2012 (chart here) and this will probably end up being too low of a ranking for him when it’s all said and done on Sunday. However, the only ten-lap run that this team made was in Happy Hour when the track was super hot (he ranked 5th on that chart, by the way). Believe it or not, Harvick has the best average finish at Charlotte over the last two years (6.5) and hasn’t finished worse than 11th over that span of four races. Kevin hasn’t finished better than 18th over the last month of Sprint Cup action (talking points-paying races here) but that should change on Sunday. Remember, he won the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 by not running out of gas.
13. Clint Bowyer – Starts 5th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
Clint flew completely under my radar this weekend, but after his qualifying effort on Thursday, he got my attention. This track has been somewhat rough on Bowyer throughout his career, though, so there is some risk if you pick him on Sunday. In twelve career starts here, Bowyer has just three top 10s and only one top 5. His average finish here is 17.9. One positive thing, though, is that the #15 finished 6th at Las Vegas and was running in the top 10 at Kansas before blowing an engine. This team brought that same chassis from Kansas this weekend, which is also the one that was ran in Vegas. Bowyer posted the 8th-fastest lap in the practice session that mattered on Saturday. I’m expecting a top 15 out of this team on Sunday, with a possibility of a top 10 if they don’t have any mistakes.
14. Aric Almirola – Starts 1st – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
Did you read my Preview and listen when I said the Petty Fords would be good this weekend? A.J. Allmendinger this #43 car last season and posted top 5 qualifying efforts in both races and also finished in the top 10 each times. Almirola will lead the field to the green for the 2012 Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, his first pole in the Sprint Cup Series. But how long will he stay up there? I think this team could pull off a top 10 finish, but as you can see, it’s going to be risky if you pick Aric. What is frustrating with Almirola this year is that we really have no history to go off of with him. On the 1.5-mile race tracks–well, the intermediate tracks entirely–this season, the #43 hasn’t been too great (chart here). While driving in the Nationwide Series last season, Aric finished 8th in the first race at Charlotte, if that counts for anything. Most Yahoo! users will have to pick between Almirola and Trevor Bayne this weekend in the C Group. The #21 really struggled in both practices (specifically Happy Hour) so you could make a case to start the #43. I’d rather start Almirola on a weekend where he looks good than wait and save him for later on in the season.
15. Paul Menard – Starts 9th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
Menard looks to have a pretty fast Chevrolet this weekend, but his history at this track is concerning to say the least. In ten points-paying events at Charlotte, Paul owns an average finish of 23.7 and he has just one top 10, which came in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600. He’ll roll off of the grid in 9th and on the 1.5-mile race tracks in 2012, Menard has finished 19th, 18th, and 18th (chart here). What impressed me out of Paul was him being third in ten-lap average during the useful practice, and he also placed fourth on that chart in Happy Hour. If he can finish the entire race, I think Menard can surprise people on Sunday night. He’s only finished on the lead lap in 20% of his starts at this track.
Looking for a sleeper pick? Look no further than Regan Smith: he qualified 10th for the big race on Sunday, and in his career at Charlotte Motor Speedway he has been somewhat consistent. In six career starts here, Smith has never finished worse than 25th. He ended up in 8th at the end of the 2011 Coca-Cola 600.
Those To Avoid For The Coca-Cola 600:
Jeff Gordon – Any surprise here? Even if he looked good this weekend, you’d find him on my Avoid list simply because whatever can go wrong with this team, will. That being said, the #24 Chevy hasn’t looked fast at all in Charlotte: Gordon qualified 23rd and in the first practice on Saturday he could only muster the 16th-fastest lap. In Happy Hour, it got even worse for the six-time champion. DANICA PATRICK put down a faster lap than Gordon and it seemed like they were really struggling with his car (Gordon was on-track more than anyone in that final session–42 laps). I see no reason whatsoever to pick Jeff Gordon this week.
Kurt Busch – He hit the wall in qualifying and will start in the rear of the field on Sunday. If there’s a long green flag run to start the race, Kurt could find himself in some serious trouble quick. Here’s what I said about the elder Busch brother in my Preview on Tuesday: ”600 miles means that there’s more opportunities for equipment to fail, the #51 crew to make a mistake, or even Kurt to go crazy. Landon Cassill finished 28th with this car in the 2011 Coke 600. I’d be surprised if Busch finished on the lead lap on Sunday night.”