The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend for the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the schedule and the fifth race of the season at a 1.5-mile oval.
If you have been reading my articles, you already know that I like to lean on the more dependable options at the mile-and-a-half ovals, utilizing more sleepers at short tracks, superspeedways and road courses. Even though the marathon style of Sunday’s race can increase attrition a bit, I still like to load my lineups with quality picks for Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
It is important to note that even though the Coca-Cola 600 will be run in three stages, Fantasy Live will only be including the stage points from Stage 1 and Stage 2 in its scoring. However, you will have until after Stage 3 to use your garage driver. I don’t understand why they just don’t include Stage 3 points, as well, but I don’t make the rules.
While the importance of stage points makes my lean more toward stronger options starting up front for Fantasy Live, the length of the Coca-Cola 600 does provide plenty of time for drivers who are starting deeper in the field to work their way to the front. With that in mind, I’ll be going after place differential points in the Slingshot game.
Check out all of my fantasy NASCAR picks for Fantasy Live, the Driver Group Game and Slingshot Fantasy Auto for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, and make sure to lock in your lineups for Sunday night’s race.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Busch had an excellent car in last year’s Coca-Cola 600, finishing fourth or better in all three stages on his way to a runner-up finish. After powering to the pole Thursday night, he appears to have another fast car for this weekend’s race. Throw in the fact that Busch ranks second in both points scored and average finish at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he has to be considered the favorite to finish as the top scorer Sunday night.
He has been the model of consistency all year, finishing in the Top 10 in 10 of the first 12 races. Logano has been particularly dependable at the mile-and-a-half tracks, scoring the third-most points while posting a 5.5 average finish. He will start on the front row Sunday night, putting him great position for another strong finish and plenty of valuable stage points.
Charlotte has been one of Hamlin’s best tracks the last few years, and over the last 10 races here, his eight Top 10s are the second most in the series. More importantly, he has finished in the Top 5 in four of the last five races, leading double-digit laps in three straight. Starting third, Hamlin is great position to pile up stage points. Cross your fingers that he doesn’t do something stupid on pit road.
Jones has emerged as one of the better performers at the 1.5-mile ovals this year, and through four races, he ranks fourth with a 7.5 average finish and seventh in total points scored. He has finished 11th or better in all four of the races, and on the heels of a fourth-place qualifying effort, Jones could be headed for one of his best runs of the year.
While I’m not taking a lot of risks with my lineup this weekend, I will go out on a limb a bit and take a chance on McMurray. Yes, he has struggled in 2018, but Charlotte has always been kind to him. McMurray is a two-time winner here, and he has three Top 5s in the last eight races at the track. He’s also shown a safe floor, posting a 12.3 average finish in the last 10 races at CMS and finishing inside the Top 20 in all 10 of the races. After he qualified seventh, I’m more willing to roll the dice.
Garage Driver – Kevin Harvick
Failing inspection and starting 39th is certainly a hurdle to Harvick’s quest for stage points, but writing him off could be a disaster. He’s been dominant at the 1.5-mile ovals in 2018, and he has been excellent at Charlotte throughout his career. In case he surges to the front before the end of Stage 1, I want to make sure I can swap him in.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Kevin Harvick still end up in victory lane despite starting 39th, but starting at the back does increase his chances of getting caught up in someone else’s mess. Instead, I’ll go with Busch, who has been the second-best driver at the mile-and-a-half tracks this year and is starting at the front of the field this weekend.
Ryan Blaney would have a higher ceiling, but he doesn’t have the strongest history at Charlotte. Meanwhile, Suarez finished 11th and sixth in two starts here as a rookie, and he qualified in the Top 10. He’s also been running better in recent weeks, so I think it is a good time to ride his hot hand at one of his best tracks.
I debated between Kurt Busch and Jones, but I have more starts remaining from Jones, and he’s starting in the Top 5. Jones has also been great at the 1.5-mile ovals this year, posting a 7.5 average finish through four races. He finished seventh in the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him top that result this weekend.
He has made four career Cup starts at Charlotte, and Buescher has cracked the Top 20 in three of them. He has also finished in the Top 15 in two of the four races at 1.5-mile tracks this year. After an 18th-place effort in qualifying, another finish in the top half of the field seems more than reasonable. I’ll try to squeeze a start out of Buescher at one of his better tracks.