NASCAR Barometer: Larson Sweeps Coca-Cola 600

NASCAR Barometer: Larson Sweeps Coca-Cola 600

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Larson ended his streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes by winning Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 from pole. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led 327 of 400 laps and crossed 1,000 laps led on the season in doing so. He was the quickest car on track from the green flag and swept all of the stage victories on his way to the checkered flag. When his car wasn't in the lead, his pit crew delivered the fastest stops in the field to ensure he returned to the front of the pack. That teamwork left Larson in perfect position to capitalize, and once he retook the lead after the final pit stops, there was no looking back as he stretched to a 10-second margin of victory over teammate Chase Elliott. The win also reversed his trend of sweeping the opening stages only to fail in capturing the trophy, too. 

Up next, is a trip out West to tackle another road course. The NASCAR Cup Series did not race at Sonoma Raceway last season in the pandemic-altered scheduled, but they return to the natural-terrain course this week for their second road course race in the last three weeks. Martin Truex Jr. is the two-time defending winner at the track, but all eyes likely will be on Hendrick Motorsports and Chase Elliott as he looks to add to his road course win tally.

UPGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson qualified on pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 and immediately took the green flag and dominated

Kyle Larson ended his streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes by winning Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 from pole. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led 327 of 400 laps and crossed 1,000 laps led on the season in doing so. He was the quickest car on track from the green flag and swept all of the stage victories on his way to the checkered flag. When his car wasn't in the lead, his pit crew delivered the fastest stops in the field to ensure he returned to the front of the pack. That teamwork left Larson in perfect position to capitalize, and once he retook the lead after the final pit stops, there was no looking back as he stretched to a 10-second margin of victory over teammate Chase Elliott. The win also reversed his trend of sweeping the opening stages only to fail in capturing the trophy, too. 

Up next, is a trip out West to tackle another road course. The NASCAR Cup Series did not race at Sonoma Raceway last season in the pandemic-altered scheduled, but they return to the natural-terrain course this week for their second road course race in the last three weeks. Martin Truex Jr. is the two-time defending winner at the track, but all eyes likely will be on Hendrick Motorsports and Chase Elliott as he looks to add to his road course win tally.

UPGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson qualified on pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 and immediately took the green flag and dominated the first stage. He went on to win the second stage, sweeping the first two stages in a race for the third time this season. A late caution in the third stage also gave him that stage, which set him up for a commanding run to the finish where he captured his second win of the season. It was a dominating night for Larson that broke his streak of dominating races and then failing to win. Larson is now the third driver this season to win multiple races. Up next is a road course where he has just one top-10 from six starts despite qualifying inside the top five every time and starting from pole in his has last three visits.

Chase Elliott – Elliott's second-place finish in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 gave Hendrick Motorsports a one-two finish as it passed Richard Petty Motorsports for the most all-time wins. Elliott credited the Hendrick organization for its effort this season as it has become the team to beat. On track at Charlotte, Elliott led 22 laps but did not have the speed to catch his teammate to battle for the win. Instead, Elliott settled into a relatively comfortable second-place and cruised to the finish to collect his fourth top-five finish and fifth top-10 in the last five races. The good news for Elliott is that a road course is next on the calendar. He has never won at Sonoma, but in four starts there, he has a best finish of fourth and two top-10s.

Kyle Busch – Busch jokingly said during the race that he would have to wreck the Hendrick cars in order to beat them for the win. While Busch finished third, he and the rest of the field really had nothing for the Hendrick drivers. Busch led just one lap on the night, but the finish was his third top-three finish in the last five races. Sonoma may give him more of an opportunity to challenge for the win. He has two prior wins at the track and hasn't finished lower than seventh there since 2015. He finished second the last time the series visited the track, and this circuit is one of Busch's best road course venues. He holds the eighth spot in the championship standings exiting Charlotte and will be working hard to reel in the competition before the playoffs get underway.

Chris Buescher – Buescher again put his newfound Roush Fenway Racing speed to good use. The car was competitive throughout the night, and Buescher left with an eighth-place finish for his effort. It was Buescher's third top-10 in the last five races and fourth of the season. The speed he showed in Miami hasn't left him as the season has progressed, which reinforces the fact that fantasy players should be considering Buescher on most circuits this season until something changes. That advice rings true on road courses, too. He drove to the 13th-place finishing position in the Texas rain and was 11th on Daytona's road course earlier in the year. He has four Sonoma starts with the last three being 19th or better.

Daniel SuarezDaniel Suarez once again proved he and his new Trackhouse Racing Team have come to compete. The first-year outfit scored a 15th-place finish Sunday night in NASCAR's longest race against stiff competition. If the team has any hidden weaknesses, they likely would have shown up in the Coca-Cola 600. Instead, they made few errors and continued making up ground in the standings with their third top-15 showing in the last five races. This week's trip to Sonoma could extend that run, too. Suarez placed 16th in the Daytona Road Course race earlier this year and has an average finish of 16th in three series starts at this week's circuit. Suarez is proving to be a reliable fantasy option this season.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Many expected Truex to have a good night at Charlotte, but the team largely struggled throughout the distance. The No. 19 spent most of the race distance fighting to stay in the top 15, and they never showed the pace required to move much farther forward. Just before the final pit stops, the last nail was hammered into their coffin as a tire went down and forced them to pit road early for repairs. After two consecutive weeks of bad results, Truex needs something positive, which could happen this week at Sonoma. He has won three times at this track, including the last two, which may give him the confidence he needs to get out of this slump.

Ross Chastain – Despite a nice string of results leading into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Chastain suffered a mechanical issue early. He eventually returned to the track, but was 38 laps down. That instantly turned the race into a test session for him and the team to gain experience, try some new things and gain seat time. This coming week's return to a road course may help him get back on the course quickly after he finished fourth at Circuit of the Americas. However, he only has one series start at Sonoma. That was last year when he started 37th and finished 31st. He was also 39th on the road course at Daytona earlier this season and may not have the same weather he benefitted from a week ago in Texas.

Kurt Busch – Like teammate Chastain, Busch also suffered a mechanical issue. He lost oil pressure and power steering off of turn 2 and immediately coasted to the garage. The team immediately went to work, but the night was lost once he returned to the track. It looks more and more likely each week that Busch will need to win a race in order to secure a spot in the playoffs. He does have a win at this coming week's track, however. He won the 2011 visit to Sonoma and has only finished outside of the top 15 there twice since then. He was 13th the last time the series raced there in 2019 but finished sixth in 2018's race. He has a good history at Sonoma, but this year has been a challenge so far.

Ryan Newman – Tire failures were relatively common Sunday night in Charlotte, and Newman was not immune to the trouble. He had been navigating his way through the race in decent position until a tire failure sent him into the wall in the third stage. That was enough to ruin his progress, and he ended the long night with a 27th-place finish, four laps down. That finish was his third consecutive outside of the top 20, and slumps like this will make it very difficult for him to have a chance of making the playoffs. He heads to Sonoma this week 20th in the standings, 87 points behind teammate Buescher in the final playoff position. This week should be a good opportunity for him to exit the backslide, however. He was seventh at Sonoma in 2019.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Hendrick Motorsports – Aside from Martin Truex Jr.'s lack of speed Sunday in Charlotte, the other surprise may have been Hendrick Motorsports. Just two weeks after sweeping the top four finishing positions at Dover, the team went on to grab four of the top five spots at the Coca-Cola 600. Larson's win also broke the all-time wins record that Richard Petty Motorsport had for roughly 60 years. This team has found its groove and does not look likely to slow anytime soon. Each of its drivers has wins, and three of those drivers have amassed more than 500 points. Only two other drivers have 500 or more points so far this year – Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. Hendrick is without question the team to beat right now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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