The Action Network: Best bets to win Coca-Cola 600
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For the second consecutive weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, FOX). However, this time instead of an All-Star shootout, drivers are in for a grueling 600 miles in the Cup Series’ longest race of the year.
Charlotte is a 1.5-mile oval with a relatively old surface that was repaved back in 2006. We saw from the All-Star Race that tires did make a difference and that track position was also extremely important, so this race should provide a good blend of multiple 1.5-mile tracks.
The most recent 1.5-mile points-paying race was also a night race at Kansas Speedway. In that race, the top five in average green-flag speed all showed up in the top nine in 15-lap speed in Happy Hour, despite the race being at night and final practice during the day.
We have a similar situation at Charlotte this weekend, so I’ll certainly rely on long-run speed in addition to 1.5-mile performance this year and past Charlotte oval performance when handicapping the race.
Armed with these data points, let’s get right to my four favorite bets to win tonight’s race, plus bonus top-five and top-10 props.
A quick primer on the odds below: A $100 bet at +600 odds would profit $600.
Kevin Harvick +600 to Win
Kyle Busch is the favorite thanks to his exceptional speed in Happy Hour and three wins to Harvick’s zero wins this year. However, it could be argued that Harvick should be a co-favorite despite finishing only 13th on the 10-lap board in final practice.
That’s because in opening practice, he was much better relative to the rest of the field over 10 consecutive laps. His fifth-place time during the cooler temperatures is encouraging. In fact, Harvick’s Crew Chief Rodney Childers stated the cars are extremely sensitive to track changes, and that they were really good in opening practice during the cooler temperatures.
Harvick had the fastest average green-flag speed at the All-Star race, and an average finish of 3.5 at Charlotte during the higher downforce era (2013-2015) of the Gen-6 car. That includes two wins and four top-two finishes among those six races. We’re back to high downforce in the Cup Series, so this could play right into his hands.
I have no problem if you want to take Harvick as low as +500.
Brad Keselowski +1100 to Win
This weekend, Keselowski posted the ninth- and fifth-best practice times over 15 and 20 laps in a daytime Happy Hour. That’s remarkably similar to the last daytime Happy Hour for a night race — Kansas, which he won — where Keselowski practiced eighth and sixth in the 10- and 15-lap marks.Keselowski’s average finish over his previous-eight incident-free races at Kansas was 9.3 prior to that win two weeks ago. That same statistic for Charlotte: 9.1.
In fact, Keselowski won at both Atlanta and Kansas despite coming in only seventh in green-flag speed in both races, and finished second at Las Vegas. His only 1.5-mile blemish this year was Texas, when he had a mechanical failure.
He’s not likely to have the fastest car tonight, but with Paul Wolfe at the helm, Keselowski is always in contention for a strategy win if he’s showing top-10 speed. I’d bet this line down to +1000.
Denny Hamlin +2200 to Win, +325 Top-5 Finish
Hamlin won the race at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year and although he struggled in the Kansas night race, it’s likely because he was struggling to find speed all weekend, coming in nowhere near the top of the charts in any of the long-run categories in any practice session.
It’s certainly possible the team was experimenting with the setup, given Hamlin already has two wins this year.
Things are a bit different this weekend. Hamlin posted the second-best 15-lap average and third-best 20-lap average in final practice. His car has been consistent over multiple practice sessions, as well; he was second-quick over 10 consecutive laps in Saturday’s morning practice when track temperatures were a little cooler and speeds a bit higher, like we should see on Sunday night.
Hamlin has top-five finishes in each of his past five incident-free Charlotte oval races, so his recent form at the track is very solid as well.I don’t mind betting Hamlin as low as +1800 to win and +250 for a top-five finish.
Jimmie Johnson +3300 to Win, +115 Top-10 Finish
Long shot and strategy plays have won at the Coca-Cola 600 in recent years, with Austin Dillon (2017), Carl Edwards (2015), and Casey Mears (2007) winning on fuel mileage gambles. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also nearly stole a fuel mileage win in 2011, and David Reutimann won a rain-shortened race in 2009.
If there’s a long shot driver to steal a win this year, I think Johnson is the best of the bunch. His 10-lap speed during the cooler morning practice was fourth-best. Yes, his car was pretty terrible during final practice, but terrible in the direction we want to see. His car was loose during the heat of the day, but typically cars will tighten up as the track cools and the air density increases, adding more downforce.
Johnson has a very solid track record at Charlotte in recent years. He had a fifth-place finish last year, and holds an average finish of 6.9 over his past eight incident-free Charlotte oval races, including wins in 2014 and 2016. He also has top-10 finishes in four of the last five races on the Charlotte oval.
I’d bet Johnson down to +2800 to win, and even money for a top-10 finish.