Each week, Cole Cusumano will provide statistical and observational insight for the upcoming race in hopes you can redeem it for “Cole’s Cash” once the checkered flag waves.
The NASCAR Cup Series enters the midway point of the regular-season this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway in arguably the most physically and mentally demanding event of the year: the Coca-Cola 600. As those in the grandstands and at home indulge in Memorial Day festivities, teams will be tested in the ultimate battle of whit and stamina.
In order to earn a prestigious victory in this crown jewel event, execution is crucial, making this race easier to forecast for bettors. Held at the 1.5-mile track, which resides in the heart of NASCAR, glory typically favors veterans of the sport in this rather formulaic marathon.
Pre-Practice & Qualifying Odds/DFS Value per DraftKings Sportsbook:
Kyle Busch +550 ($11,100)
Kyle Larson +550 ($11,300)
Chase Elliott +600 ($10,700)
Martin Truex Jr. +1000 ($10,200)
William Byron +1200 ($10,000)
As has been the case for a majority of the season, the Kyles are the favorites going into the Coca-Cola 600 and the oddsmakers are taking tons of stock in Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. Seeing as DFS values between the eight drivers in both camps will make it nearly impossible to include multiple into a single lineup, it’s important to narrow down your options.
Chevrolet has dominated, but Toyota has hit on something over the past few weeks and could be trending in the right direction to topple the bowties at the midway point of the regular-season. Between the two powerhouse stables, there’s no shortage of talent or experience, both of which will be essential to win one of NASAR’s crown jewels.
By all accounts, Kyle Busch should be the favorite going in for Toyota and potentially the entire field. For an endurance race such as the 600-mile gridiron, team-wide execution is the key to success and the No. 18 team proved to be the best in show by winning the pit crew competition for All-Star Race qualifying.
Busch has five top-10s in his last six starts on top of an outstanding resume at Charlotte. He has one Coca-Cola 600 win to his name, which came in 2018, in addition to a series-leading 1,450 laps led and 20 top-10s in 33 attempts. Consider the No. 18 to be the favorite going in, but if you’d rather go another route from JGR, the obvious answer is Martin Truex Jr.
Truex’s race winner odds entering the weekend could be deemed disrespectful, as he’s tied for the most active wins at Charlotte with three – two of those coming in dominant fashion in the Coca-Cola 600. Inconsistencies this season aside, you can’t ignore the former champion’s trio of victories, six top-threes and eight top-10s in as many starts at the 1.5-mile track.
As far as the Hendrick stable is concerned, natural instinct would be to gravitate towards the favorite going in and last year’s winner in this race, Kyle Larson, but he simply can’t be trusted. The reigning champ has had speed in addition to Cliff Daniels on the pit box, however if you take out his dominant Coca-Cola 600 victory, he only has 20 laps led, four top-10s and an 18.9 average in 11 starts. While he may be worth putting some money on for a winner bet, his price is much too steep to instill trust for DFS.
You can feel much more confident in Chase Elliott for a race winner bet and DFS lineups. He’s been the better driver this season and his resume at Charlotte has been exceptional. The 2020 Champion has one win, three runner-ups (two in the Coca-Cola 600) and six top-10s in 10 starts. Additionally, the four-time Most Popular Driver has five top-four finishes in his last six attempts at the 1.5-mile track. Consider Elliott a favorite along with Busch.
As a bonus, you may even feel more comfortable betting on William Byron in place of Larson. The 24-year-old has leveled up this season, largely due in part to his budding relationship with crew chief Rudy Fugle, and they’ll look to continue their impressive campaign at Charlotte. In their first Coca-Cola 600 attempt together, they placed fourth. In five starts, he has two poles and laps led in all but two races.
Best of the Rest
This has been a rather uncharacteristic season for the Fords, as we typically see the blue ovals excel in the beginning of the year and then trail off by midseason. Accounting for only three wins in 12 races, the dominance just simply hasn’t been there, but things seem to be looking up.
There’s no denying Team Penske’s upswing as of late, backed by wins at Darlington Raceway and the All-Star Race. Although Ryan Blaney is the only driver yet to score a points win this season, he started his 2022 campaign as one of the fastest in the sport on a weekly basis. Luckily for the 28-year-old, he’s coming off an exhibition victory and posted the fastest lap time in a Next Gen test at Charlotte that featured 18 different drivers. The only caveat is he hasn’t led more than two laps in a single Cup race at Charlotte and he has three top-10 in 11 starts.
Joey Logano has looked much more competitive this season, especially after his victory at Darlington, but he’s had an inconsistent career at Charlotte, even with the win in 2015. This is backed by his 47.8% top-10 rate, but a bulk of the confidence in the former champion this week is the guy calling the shots: Paul Wolfe. The 12-year crew chief is master strategist and a valuable asset to whoever he’s assisting, especially in a race like the Coca-Cola 600.
Two drivers who can surprise on any given race day from the opposing powerhouse stables are Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. The Toyota Racing Development driver is riding a three-race top-10 streak with proven results in the NASCAR’s developmental series at Charlotte. The Arizona native silently has top-10s in three of his last four Coca-Cola 600 attempts and has a reputation for being a showman.
Lastly, there’s Tyler Reddick. Coming off his 10th NASCAR Xfinity Series victory for Big Machine Racing at Texas, this could be the spark the two-time NXS champ needs to ignite a win at the Cup level. He’s scored a top-10 in all his Coca-Cola 600 starts and his worst finish at Charlotte is 14th. The driver of the No. 8 also ranked top-five in lap times at the Next Gen test at the 1.5-mile track.
DFS Price/Odds: Blaney $9,100 (+1200), Reddick $9,600 (+1400), Bowman $9,300 (+1400), Logano $8,900 (+1800), Bell $8,400 (+2500)
Bubba Wallace has had consistent top-10 speed over the past few weeks. The only issue is his pit crew has burned him on too many occasions this season, which could be very detrimental in a 600-mile endurance race. Regardless, the speed should be there and he scored his best finish at Charlotte last year. You need to take risks to win big and the driver of the No. 23 may be worth it for DFS.
Coming off a stage win in the All-Star Open and three consecutive top-10s, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has hit on something as of late. Even more impressively, he’s getting results at tracks he doesn’t run well at historically. This being said, the former Xfinity Series Champion could be in line for a big day at Charlotte, as he has three top-10s in his last five starts there.
Chris Buescher is also coming off a stage win in the All-Star Open and he’s had speed over the past two years at 1.5-mile tracks. Surprisingly, he’s also scored top-10s in his last three Coca-Cola 600 attempts. Consider Stenhouse and the driver of the No. 17 locks for DFS.
Finally, making just his second Cup start this season, Ryan Preece is a driver who can be the difference between yourself and a huge cashout in DFS. Not only does the 31-year-old have a reputation for being someone who knows how to run a sound race by preserving and maximizing his equipment, he’s running triple-duty this weekend and getting extra track time before the Coca-Cola 600 should prove valuable. Pay attention to where he qualifies on Saturday, but you can consider him a borderline lock as well.
DFS Price/Odds: Stenhouse $7,400 (+5000), Wallace $6,900 (+7000), Buescher $6,700 (+10000), Preece $5,200 (+100000)
Running on Fumes
Let’s get one thing straight: Denny Hamlin has looked more like himself the past few weeks, even if the results don’t reflect it. His speed won’t be in question at Charlotte, but if there’s one race you don’t want to be without your crew chief, especially someone like Chris Gabehart, it’s the Coca-Cola 600. Team aside, the 41-year-old has yet to win at the 1.5-mile track, but has 19 top-10s in 30 starts. Given his value, you should stay away from him for DFS.
Typically veterans of the sport are ones you’d gravitate towards in a race like the Coca-Cola 600, but that’s not the case for Aric Almirola. The driver of the No. 10 only has one top-10 in his 15-year Cup career at Charlotte and Stewart-Haas Racing just hasn’t looked great this season.
Lastly comes a driver who you may want to consider gambling on, but history would tell you otherwise – Erik Jones. The 26-year-old’s lone top-10 at Charlotte came in his first start there in 2017 and he only has three lead-lap finishes in seven attempts.
DFS Price/Odds: Hamlin $10,500 (+1200), Jones $7,600 (+7000), Almirola $6,500 (+8000)
Big Money Prop Bets
Martin Truex Jr. to place top-five +125
William Byron to place top-five +150
Race Winner (Smaller Bet) / DFS Inclusion Combo
Ryan Blaney +1200 ($9,100)
Christopher Bell +2500 ($8,400)
For more in-depth an audial DFS analysis, check out The Money Stop on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor.