NASCAR's longest night got under way to a fast start Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600, capping two weeks for teams and drivers at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The prior week's All-Star Race gave plenty of warning of which drivers and teams would be strong Sunday night, and those top runners started where they left off.
Strange and unusual events began plucking top competitors out of the running fairly early in the 600 miles, though. Multiple red-flag periods, broken camera equipment falling onto the track and mechanical failures all took part in narrowing the field to those select few who would fight for the win.
Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick both avoided the bizarre events throughout the night, staying in front of the field until the time came to push home for the finish. A late caution threw one last wrench into the mix, and while Kahne opted for track position, Harvick opted for fresher tires. The call for Harvick to pit proved to be the decider, and he powered through to take the lead on the final restart.
This week starts the beginning of the summer schedule, kicking off at Dover International Speedway. The tight concrete track is another circuit where particular drivers rise to the surface, and given his performance last week, Harvick shines above all the rest.
Kevin Harvick - One top-5 and three top-10 finishes in the last five Dover events gives Harvick a 10.0 average finish. A top-10 average finish is a great omen for fantasy owners, making Harvick a good choice this week. The team worked on its car all evening, tuning it just right, and Harvick stayed within touch of the lead throughout the 600 miles. When the time came, he was ready to pounce. His two-tire call under the final caution period Sunday gave him the grip he needed to surge forward on the final restart. The win is his second of the season, moving him three spots forward to seventh in points. Harvick is a top driver at Dover, and last week's win gives him plenty of momentum.
Carl Edwards - Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 produced the first finish outside the top 10 for Edwards since the STP 400 four races ago. That isn't a bad thing, though. The No. 99 team was in contention much of the race Sunday and barely missed that top-10 finish. This team has seven top-10s from 12 races so far this season, placing it second in points. Edwards scored an impressive 9.2 average finish in the last five Dover races. Things are going in the right direction for this team, and three top-5s and one other top-10 put him at the front of the line for fantasy owners this week.
Kasey Kahne - Despite missing another Coca-Cola 600 victory, Kahne showed his speed Sunday at Charlotte. He led much of the race, was at the front the entire night and only missed the win due to a decision to take track position over tires under the final caution. Kahne and Hendrick Motorsports are proving to be a great combination. The pairing sits fifth in points, and more victories are bound to come this team's way. Kahne has two top-10 finishes in the last three Dover races, and he'll be hungry to finish what he started in Charlotte. Kahne has become a reliable fantasy option this season, and this week should be no different.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer's eighth-place finish Sunday night was his sixth top-10 finish this season. With just two finishes outside the top 20 this season, Bowyer has come to represent a very consistent performer the last two seasons. Things don't look any different for the driver this week at Dover, either. An average finish of 10.6 in the prior five races on the concrete oval makes Bowyer a confident fantasy selection this week. He has become a fixture at the front end of the points race and every week in the race as well. Fantasy owners should be able to select him this week without much concern, offering reliable points for those who need them.
Kurt Busch - Busch has taken some serious strides forward in performance the past few weeks. He ran up front each almost every time the cars were on track in Charlotte, and lost ground at the end of the Coca-Cola 600 solely due to a failing battery. This team is on the verge of a big breakthrough, and Busch is leading it forward on the track. His average Dover finish is 13.2 in the last five races there, winning one of those, and adding another top-5 to boot. Being a past winner at the track will give Busch an extra boost of confidence, but last week's superb effort in Charlotte will do even more to inspire another top run.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt was one of a handful of drivers to suffer a mechanical failure on NASCAR's longest night. While Hendrick isn't known for engine failures, the trouble could signal some issues for the team. Add to the mechanical concern Earnhardt's recent Dover results and you have a less than optimal combination this week. Just two lead-lap finishes in his last five Dover efforts have given Earnhardt only one top-5 and an average finish of 14.8. In fact, Earnhardt has only scored three top-10 finishes in his last 16 races at Dover International Speedway. He won the MBNA America 400 there in 2001, but that was some time ago. This week may be a good place to let Earnhardt rest from fantasy duty and save starts for more optimal tracks.
Greg Biffle - It is hard to believe there is a track where Biffle would be considered bottom of the heap, but Dover International Raceway is one of those places. In his last five tries Biffle hasn't scored any top finishes and has racked up an 18.2 average finish with a sole lead-lap finish. Confidence is critical in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, and this is a week where Biffle has little. Compound that disastrous finishing average with the bad luck Biffle endured Sunday in Charlotte and you have the recipe for a week of damage limitation for the No. 16. No fantasy owner is looking for a team that is just trying to get through a particular week, and that is why this week Biffle should be low on the consideration list.
Kyle Busch - If it weren't for bad luck Sunday night, Busch wouldn't have had any. The driver was quick and out front when a freak accident with camera equipment on the front stretch damaged his car. As if that incident weren't enough, the engine gave up late in the race as the team was battling back from the earlier issue. If you remember, this team is not immune to engine troubles, and past seasons highlighted mechanical troubles that took more than a week to solve. Is last week's failure a sign of more to come? While the problem came in a race that is particularly hard on equipment, Joe Gibbs Racing is a repeat offender, and that is enough to give fantasy owners some pause before reaching for the No. 18 this week.
Ryan Newman - Sunday was a respectable night for Stewart-HAAS Racing, and the dual top-10 finishes for Newman and team owner Tony Stewart will give a small foundation for the team to build. A dramatic turn for the better may not be likely, though, and it will be more likely that things slowly improve as the schedule heads into summer. Just one top-10 finish in the last five Dover races doesn't make Newman a convincing option for Dover, either. His average finish in that time is 17.6, and he only finished on the lead lap twice. Stewart-HAAS Racing hasn't lived up to its expectations yet this season, and while things are beginning to look brighter it just isn't time yet.
Tony Stewart - The schedule is edging closer to summer, and that is the time of the year Stewart usually heats up, but fantasy owners will want to keep waiting just a bit longer. Stewart's last five Dover races have produced no lead-lap finishes, no top-10s and an average finish of just 24.0. The No. 14 had a comparatively good night in Charlotte last week, tallying just its second top-10 finish of the season. While the effort was a good sign of things to come, the run of bad form for the team will take more than a solitary top-10 to turn around. As signs of life start trickling in it will be easier to look Stewart's direction, but we haven't seen the consistency quite yet.