Jimmie Johnson survived 600 miles to claim his seventh win at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night, the most wins at the track in Sprint Cup history. He started from pole, and had a strong car throughout each phase of the race, finally making opening his 2014 victory account.
NASCAR's longest night started with the No. 48 on pole position, and from the early laps on it became obvious that the win would become tussle between Kevin Harvick and Johnson. The long distance bit the Stewart-Haas Racing team hard, taking Kurt Busch out of his Memorial Day double attempt at the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, and also collecting Danica Patrick, who qualified very well before succumbing to engine failure.
Johnson and Harvick led more than half of the 600 miles between them, giving up the point sparingly to just a few other competitors. After a late caution, Johnson was the one who muscled his way past Matt Kenseth. The quick work Johnson put in ensured that he had an unassailable gap to Harvick when he was finally clear of traffic. As it stands, Johnson walks away from Charlotte with one foot in the door of the Chase, a goal he and the team have been searching for since Daytona.
Jimmie Johnson - Though Johnson's 2014 season hadn't kicked into high gear he scored pole position for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, leading laps throughout the long race distance, and ultimately claiming the win. The last person to win the Coca-Cola 600 from pole was also the No. 48, and the strong effort was the perfect answer to skeptics who thought the team might be in danger of not notching an all-important win in 2014. After 500 racing miles, Johnson still found himself out front despite everything the race had thrown at him, and he closed the books by streaking ahead of Matt Kenseth shortly after the final restart. His Dover resume includes eight wins from 24 races, along with 12 top-5s, and 17 top-10s, which is the best in the series.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick started Sunday's 600-mile race with the field's fastest car, but was resigned to a second-place finish when he ran out of laps while chasing down the No. 48. He and Johnson were able to impose themselves at the front of the field, leading the vast majority of the race's mileage. Harvick's No. 4 car has been the fastest at many racetracks so far this season, and the team is not ready to start resting on their laurels quite yet. Notably, his engine also survived the long distance that claimed some teammates, and ruined his own efforts earlier in the season. Harvick has a top-5 and four top-10s from his last five races at Dover, helping him to an average result of 7.8.
Brian Vickers - With less than 100 miles remaining in NASCAR's longest race Vickers found himself running in the top five. He slipped just slightly in the final laps, finishing sixth for another top-10 finish in his full-time return to the series. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver has had some good runs so far in 2014 turning in two top-5 finishes along with another three in the top 10 when including Charlotte's result. Vickers competed in just two of the last five Dover races, racking up an average finish of 13.0, finishing on the lead lap in each of those tries. There isn't any reason to think that this team won't find their way into Victory Lane at some point this season, and fantasy players should take note of Sunday's successful effort.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth assembled a fast car for the closing miles of Sunday's marathon race. Unfortunately, the No. 48 and 4 teams were just a bit better in the final segment, resigning the No. 20 to a third-place finish. He has yet to score a win in 2014, and the effort he put in to try and hold off Johnson was demonstrative of the hunger this former champion still has. A third-place finish would be considered a success in past seasons, but wins matter more now. At Dover Kenseth has two top-5s and three top-10s in the last five races. His average finish in that time is 18.0. Kenseth continues to knock on the door of victory; his car just didn't have the edge last week in Charlotte.
Jamie McMurray - His win in the All-Star race seems to have given the No. 1 team a boost. McMurray parlayed that showcase win into a strong top-5 finish in the Coca-Cola 600. He led 34 of the 400 laps, and just didn't have the speed in the final segment to chase down the victory. McMurray could be past the bad luck he has endured so far this season, when on multiple circuits he had a fast car but was eliminated by a mistake or trouble. McMurray hasn't produced any top finishes from his last five Dover starts, and his average finish is 20.4, with three lead-lap finishes. Charlotte may prove to have been the turning point of the season for this team, and fantasy players shouldn't overlook them going forward.
Kurt Busch - His day started in Indianapolis where he raced 500 miles to finish sixth in his first IndyCar race, the Indianapolis 500. From there he flew to North Carolina to race another 600 miles in Charlotte, but came up 200 miles short. Busch was the first person to attempt the Memorial Day weekend double since 2004, and an engine failure in his Sprint Cup car ended the attempt early. If it weren't for Busch's win in the STP 500 the season might already be written off. He has only finished in the top 20 twice in the first 12 races of the season, and extends his streak of 20th or worse finishes to six as he looks toward Dover. His win there in 2011 was his only top-10 result at the track in the last five.
Clint Bowyer - A strong Sprint Showdown didn't translate to success in the All-Star Race, and it didn't do Bowyer much good for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 either. The Showdown winner struggled with his car at the halfway point of Sunday's 600 miles, pitting twice to fix a vibration, which pushed him down the running order and two laps down. The good news for fantasy players looking to leverage the No. 15 is that he landed five top-10s in each of the last five races at the concrete Dover oval. His average result in that time is 7.6, but Bowyer's luck so far this season hasn't been very good. Despite having a fast car on numerous occasions, the breakthrough simply hasn't come.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin's lone top-10 from the last five Dover races isn't a confidence builder for fantasy players. His average finish in that time is 19.6, which is disappointing considering he qualified on pole twice in that time. He finished Sunday's 600-mile race in 22nd position, two laps down to the leaders. It was a night the driver would probably like to forget. The No. 11 team was never competitive and should have had something to say in the proceedings, but never made their presence felt. Hamlin has been having an up and down season so far, and isn't fully living up to expectations. With another track on deck where Hamlin hasn't had much recent success, it would be wise for fantasy players to carefully assess his value before selection.
Danica Patrick - After qualifying fourth for the Coca-Cola 600 and turning in an impressive top-10 run at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago, Patrick didn't have such good luck Sunday night. The former IndyCar driver was tagged from behind trying to avoid a spinning Marcos Ambrose. Not too long after that incident, her engine gave up and ended her evening. Teammates Patrick and Busch both fell victim to engine woes, which will raise some reliability questions for the coming races. Patrick hasn't finished better than 24th in her three prior Dover visits, and her average finish at the track is 27.0. To expect another top-10 run from her this week would be a stretch for fantasy players.
Paul Menard - Each year Menard tends to start the season strongly, challenging among the front-runners only to slowly fall off the pace as the long Sprint Cup season wears on. Now 12 races into the season the Richard Childress Racing driver is still tallying top-10 finishes. He turned his 21st starting position into an eighth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, demonstrating that he is determined to maintain that form this season. His last five races at Dover International Speedway haven't produced any top finishes, and his average finish is 18.6 with two lead-lap finishes. Depending on how well he practices and qualifies, Menard could be a safe option for rosters this week, especially considering how he is maintaining his current momentum.