NASCAR Preview: Charlotte Doubleheader

NASCAR Preview: Charlotte Doubleheader

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend NASCAR moves to North Carolina and cues up another doubleheader week of action.  To follow up NASCAR's return to racing, we come to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 and Charlotte 500k doubleheader.  The 600 has been the traditional event for Memorial Day weekend for many years now, so this re-scheduled race appears to be falling in just the right slot at the right time.  This 600-mile marathon, the longest race of the season, is the perfect way to celebrate the long holiday weekend and our return to racing. 

 Charlotte Motor Speedway sets the stage for this high speed, big stakes battle of survival.  CMS is one of the NASCAR Cup Series' many 1.5-mile tri-ovals.  It's similar to both Atlanta and Texas in many respects, but the oval at Charlotte seems to produce more side-by-side racing than the other intermediate tracks.  Horsepower is the name of the game at this high-speed oval, and the durability of the equipment is pushed to the max.  The 400 laps raced during the Coca-Cola 600, under the lights, and late into the night take their toll on both the cars and the drivers.  In summary, this race is about equipment preservation, driver preservation and fuel preservation.  The long green flag runs we typically see in the 600 can often set up a fuel-mileage run to the finish, so crew chiefs have a lot to keep their eyes on in this very long race.  The extra 100-miles raced may not seem like

This weekend NASCAR moves to North Carolina and cues up another doubleheader week of action.  To follow up NASCAR's return to racing, we come to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 and Charlotte 500k doubleheader.  The 600 has been the traditional event for Memorial Day weekend for many years now, so this re-scheduled race appears to be falling in just the right slot at the right time.  This 600-mile marathon, the longest race of the season, is the perfect way to celebrate the long holiday weekend and our return to racing. 

 Charlotte Motor Speedway sets the stage for this high speed, big stakes battle of survival.  CMS is one of the NASCAR Cup Series' many 1.5-mile tri-ovals.  It's similar to both Atlanta and Texas in many respects, but the oval at Charlotte seems to produce more side-by-side racing than the other intermediate tracks.  Horsepower is the name of the game at this high-speed oval, and the durability of the equipment is pushed to the max.  The 400 laps raced during the Coca-Cola 600, under the lights, and late into the night take their toll on both the cars and the drivers.  In summary, this race is about equipment preservation, driver preservation and fuel preservation.  The long green flag runs we typically see in the 600 can often set up a fuel-mileage run to the finish, so crew chiefs have a lot to keep their eyes on in this very long race.  The extra 100-miles raced may not seem like a lot, but rest assured it's enough to make a major difference in who wins and who loses this Sunday night.

The following Wednesday, the boys will line up and go again at CMS.  The Charlotte 500k is a mid-week race that was added to the schedule to make up for a race missed during the Coronavirus shut down.  Lessons learned in the 600 will be quickly employed in the shorter race just days later.  Both events are run under the lights, so some of the handling setups and what worked in the 600 will translate well into Wednesday night's 500k.  Repeating a driver's success in this very short turnaround will be easier than most instances in this sport.  Typically, we have several weeks or even months between races at the same track.  In this scenario, just 72 hours will separate the first from the follow up race.  The Coca-Cola 600 will work as a great preview and barometer for success in the shorter, second race. 

To prepare for our Charlotte doubleheader we need to take a brief look at the historical loop stats for Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The extended length of the 600-mile event does play a major factor in the performance of the drivers.  The teams that start this race fast don't always end it the fastest.  The 500k won't be quite the same, but historical precedents will still play a major role.  For these twin races, the loop data from Charlotte Motor Speedway will play a significant role in our fantasy racing picks.  We have not raced on similar ovals that come earlier in the typical schedule like Texas and Atlanta due to the shut down, so that data is not available to us this weekend.  The loop stats in the table below cover the last 15 years or 28 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson13.21,4538821,0948,846108.9
Kyle Busch13.31,3508121,4498,050107.4
Denny Hamlin12.31,1854043777,57397.0
Matt Kenseth13.71,0864825376,49694.8
Martin Truex Jr.14.11,0955019726,55191.3
Kevin Harvick14.51,1004495406,56890.0
Chase Elliott16.32761081581,52589.5
Joey Logano12.59151642634,29188.7
Kurt Busch17.61,1272985726,52787.8
Brad Keselowski14.68192412954,26787.2
Ryan Blaney23.52902721,67481.1
Austin Dillon18.13954792,22278.8
Daniel Suarez12.521525073178.8
Clint Bowyer17.58091211194,49178.1
Ryan Newman17.4954881414,98677.8
Aric Almirola17.94433742,14375.1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.17.94232621,79371.4
William Byron24.08463139970.5
Erik Jones20.813432063768.6
Darrell Wallace Jr.20.5462010762.2

It's been since May of 2019 since the last time NASCAR raced at the Charlotte oval.  A year has passed and now we return to the iconic intermediate oval for this weekend's action.  Chevrolet and Toyota teams have each won in the last six events at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  The track that bowtie teams dominated for years has shifted more towards Toyota the last three seasons.  With Martin Truex Jr.'s victory in last year's Coca-Cola 600, we'll see if CMS is still tilting toward Toyota this weekend.  Truex and the No. 19 team's dominant performance saw that driver and team win their second Charlotte victory in the last three races there and third in the last six.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has become the driver to beat each time we race at Charlotte. 

Chevrolet's last victors at the 1.5-mile North Carolina track were Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon's book-end victories here in 2016-17.  The Chevy teams just haven't had quite the speed to keep up with the Toyotas since those twin victories.  However, this season may be different.  Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Johnson have all had terrific speed since the cars rolled out to start the season in February.  This trio could be upset minded heading into the Coca-Cola 600.    

As for Ford's chances, much of the burden will fall on Stewart Haas Racing and Penske Racing drivers.  Joey Logano is the last Ford winner at Charlotte and Brad Keselowski won here in 2013.  Kevin Harvick was off to a torrid start before the Coronavirus break, and he could easily exert his dominance and influence in this race.  We're going to be in for one entertaining show with lots of lead changes.  Last season's Coca-Cola 600 produced a whopping 30 lead changes, which was a five-season high mark at the North Carolina oval.  We should see a number north of 25 again this Sunday night, and lots of action at the front.  We'll give you the drivers you need to stock up on to dominate your fantasy racing leagues at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. – The winner of two of the last three Charlotte oval races pilots the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.  Truex has been the most dominant driver of the last four seasons at the 1.5-mile North Carolina speedway.  In this event one year ago he led 119 total laps and surged into the lead on the final restart to capture the victory.  It was Truex's third win in the last six Charlotte Motor Speedway races.  The No. 19 team have had their struggles to this point in the season, but this event is way too promising to pass up a fantasy racing start for Truex.  He should be considered one of the top contenders in the field to win the Coca-Cola 600.  

Kevin Harvick Harvick is a three-time Charlotte winner, and he's led well over 500 laps at this facility since the 2013 season.  In addition, the Stewart Haas Racing veteran is a two-time All-Star winner at this oval.  The No. 4 Ford Mustang has had great speed in these Charlotte oval races the last few seasons.  Harvick has captured two poles, led 220 laps and nabbed three Top 10's in the last five Charlotte Motor Speedway events.  We should see that speed again this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, and the following Wednesday in the Charlotte 310.  Deploy Harvick in your fantasy racing lineups with high confidence and high expectations. 

Kyle Busch – The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been a tough luck performer at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the years.  However, he won this event two years ago from the pole in a dominant performance.  He now knows the keys to victory at this challenging speedway.  His three Top-3 finishes in his last four Charlotte starts are proof positive of that fact.  Busch has led well over 1,400 career laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway and he cracks the Top 5 at a strong 43-percent rate.  He led 79 laps and finished third in this event one year ago, and was really the equal to Martin Truex Jr. in many respects during that race.  It's a good preview of what to expect this Sunday night in NASCAR's return to Charlotte.

Joey Logano – The Penske Racing star has two victories already in the bank before the Coronavirus hit and brought racing to a stop.  Logano and his team were hitting on all cylinders prior to the stoppage.  His Charlotte resume has been pretty strong the last few seasons.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford won at this track in the fall of 2015 and his 10-career Top-10 finishes have raised his Top-10 rate at CMS to a steady 50-percent.  Logano finished runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. in this event one year ago, and that's a great barometer for success with this same aero package.  The bottom line is that Logano will be a top performer for the Ford camp in this 600-mile event and a strong bet to challenge for the win in the Coca-Cola 600.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Alex Bowman – The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet has been fantastic in this interrupted season.  Bowman grabbed a victory at Fontana before the break, and returned at Darlington to finish runner-up in the first of the Darlington doubleheader.  We have high expectations for the young driver in the Coca-Cola 600.  Bowman finished ninth-place in this event two seasons ago, and he finished seventh-place in this same event last year.  The driver and team have been on a tear in 2020, so nowhere to go but up from here.  Given the current momentum of Bowman and this team, it's hard to ignore the No. 88 Chevrolet in this weekend's Charlotte Motor Speedway doubleheader. 

Denny Hamlin – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is off to a good start this season.  After winning the Daytona 500 Hamlin has nabbed Top 10's at Fontana and recently at Darlington.  He's in good position to stay on a roll coming to Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Three of his last five starts at CMS have netted Top-5 finishes and yielded 137 laps led.  Those efforts have boosted Hamlin's career numbers at this speedway to 33-percent and 63-percent Top-5 and Top-10 rates respectively.  Those numbers place the driver of the No. 11 Toyota among the upper tier of performers at this facility. Hamlin should be a safe fantasy racing selection across all formats, and bring the high ceiling that makes him an outside contender to win.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski had a strong car at Darlington Raceway, and showed he could lead laps.  Now the team just needs to show they can make the proper adjustments and keep up with a changing race track.  The driver of the No. 2 Ford is a one-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2013) and he has eight-career Top-10's (42-percent) and the North Carolina oval. The Penske Racing star forged a steady seventh-place finish at the similar sized oval in Las Vegas this season, and we would consider that performance the floor for this week at Charlotte.  Keselowski knows how to navigate this oval, and the longer race distance plays to his strengths as a driver.  We expect the No. 2 Ford team to mix it up with the leaders in these twin races. 

Chase Elliott – The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team had a great outing in NASCAR's return to action.  Elliott didn't have the best car at the start of the Real Heroes 400, but the team kept making adjustments and Elliott logged a race-high 36 quality passes in his march to the front and Top-5 finish.  He has three Top 10's in seven-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and his two best outings at the track have come in the last three attempts.  Elliott led 43 laps and finished fourth in this event one year ago, and he registered a strong runner-up finish at CMS three seasons ago.  This young driver has only improved with every start at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Elliott should be among those in the Top 10 Sunday and Wednesday, and with an outside shot to spoil and potentially win.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Charlotte & solid upside

Jimmie Johnson – The seven-time champion is an eight-time Charlotte winner.  Johnson is nearly legendary at this point for his accomplishments at the 1.5-mile North Carolina track.  The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet has had good speed this season and he's proved it with Top 10's at Las Vegas and Fontana before the break.  Johnson had a great car at Darlington last Sunday, but a miscalculation on his part would end his day short of a potential Top-5 finish.  The most fascinating stats are this veteran driver's 22-career Top-10 finishes at Charlotte, which check in at a robust 63-percent rate.  Johnson rides a current three-race Charlotte Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. 

Kurt Busch – Busch will look to keep his good start to the 2020 season going with a Top-10 finish in Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600.  He certainly has the pedigree at this track to demand fantasy racing expectations.  Busch is a one-time winner of this event (2010), and he has six Charlotte Top 10's in his last eight starts coming into this weekend's action.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet is coming off Top-10 performances at Fontana, Phoenix and Darlington most recently.  The momentum of this driver and team are pretty clear.  Busch has the experience and the current level of performance to be a low-risk fantasy racing play across all formats for this NASCAR doubleheader at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Matt Kenseth – The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran looked like there was no rust at all in his triumphant return after one year off from NASCAR.  Kenseth posted an impressive 10th-place finish at Darlington Raceway in the Real Heroes 400 last Sunday.  It was a very steady and very impressive performance for a driver who has been out of a Cup Series car for around 16 months.  Kenseth is a two-time Charlotte winner, although the last of those is a distant 2011.  He's still maintained a strong performance resume at this 1.5-mile oval.  Kenseth's 20-career Top-10 finishes in 38 starts at CMS equate to a steady 53-percent rate.  The 13.4 average finish across the span shows consistency and that he's generally finishing inside the Top 15, when not finishing inside the Top 10.        

Austin Dillon – The Richard Childress Racing veteran had a nice return to action when NASCAR took to Darlington's oval last Sunday.  Dillon raced solidly inside the Top 15 most of the race and collected the steady 11th-place finish after 400 miles of action at the Track Too Tough to Tame.  Dillon should be equally opportunistic at Charlotte.  He won this event in 2017, and has always liked racing this 1.5-mile North Carolina oval.  Since being reunited with crew chief Justin Alexander, the No. 3 team has made some gains.  Dillon posted fantastic fourth-place finish at the similar oval in Las Vegas before the Coronavirus break.  Dillon is a sneaky-good driver selection for this Charlotte doubleheader.   

Tyler Reddick – Make no mistake about it, Reddick is a star in the making.  If any one driver left a major impression on us from Darlington weekend it was Reddick and his Richard Childress Racing team.  The driver of the No. 8 Chevy Camaro put on a great show in the Real Heroes 400.  Reddick started 29th on the grid and methodically moved his way forward.  The youngster would post a whopping 32 quality passes during that event, the second-highest total of the day.  He also posted an amazing 73 green-flag passes, which was the highest total of any driver in the field.  Reddick is poised to follow up well at Charlotte this weekend.  He's a one-time Xfinity Series winner at the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval.        

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – This selection is the perfect combination of track-specific performance and momentum/rebound fantasy racing play.  Stenhouse had a forgettable outing in his return to action last Sunday at Darlington Raceway.  He'd make an impatient decision and unwise move on lap 1 and crash out early in the Real Heroes 400.  We expect a much more patient Stenhouse to show up this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  This has been a track of recent success for the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet.  Stenhouse has claimed one Top-5, two Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in his last four attempts at the Charlotte oval.  While all those efforts came at Roush Fenway Racing, they should translate to his new team at JTG Daugherty Racing this weekend.  Stenhouse loves this track, and it's one of the best in his Cup Series resume. 

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Christopher Bell – Bell's slow start to his rookie season goes beyond disconcerting.  The time off for Coronavirus didn't seem to help either.  The Leavine Family Racing youngster peddled to a subpar 24th-place finish in NASCAR's return last weekend at Darlington Raceway.  This Sunday will be Bell's first Cup Series experience at the challenging Charlotte oval.  While he made three Xfinity Series starts at this facility earlier in his career, with two Top-10 finishes, this will be his first Cup action at the banks of CMS.  With NASCAR still prohibiting practice and qualifying as we go forward, the valuable practice time that Bell would normally have to fine-tune his marks and lines around this oval will not be available this weekend.  At best this driver and team make for risky fantasy racing returns at Charlotte.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney hasn't had the best luck this season, and in his return to racing at Darlington this past week, he didn't have a very inspiring effort after the long layoff.  The Penske Racing youngster peddled to a subpar 16th-place finish in the first of twin Darlington races.  Charlotte could present some headwinds as well this week.  The driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang has eight-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway in NASCAR's top touring division.  He's only converted one of those eight starts into a Top-10 finish, while four of those starts have resulted in finishes outside the Top 20.  The lofty 23.5 average finish across the span is less than desirable.  Blaney did finish 13th in this event one year ago, but we'd view that as a very low ceiling for what this driver is really capable of performing.      

William Byron – This will be Byron's third-career start in the Coca-Cola 600.  It's been a mixed bag of sorts to this point with one crash/DNF and one Top-10 finish.  The young driver and the No. 24 Chevrolet team are off to a rocky start this season.  Byron has only managed one Top 10 in the four races that weren't Daytona to this point, while posting two finishes outside the Top 20.  That includes his disappointing 35th-place finish in NASCAR's return to racing at Darlington Raceway last Sunday.  The speed for success seems to be there, but some young driver mistakes and other factors are preventing good finishes right now.  Byron will turn this around and get hot at some point this season, but it's best to keep him sidelined and wait for now.  There are safer fantasy racing selections at Charlotte for this twin bill. 

Erik Jones – Despite Jones' good performance last weekend at Darlington, we come to a much tougher oval for the young driver this weekend.  The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has four-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  Jones has managed only one Top-10 finish in those starts.  The other three efforts have yielded finishes outside the Top 15, including one crash and DNF.  His average finish across the small, four-race span is a lofty 20.8.  The inconsistency in qualifying at this oval is one issue for this driver, the other seems to be maintaining the lead lap.  Jones had struggles at the similar sized oval in Las Vegas earlier this season, finishing a distant 23rd-place in that event.  It's best to set Jones aside this weekend for other driver options.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
Coca-Cola 600 Preview: Memorial Day Marathon
Coca-Cola 600 Preview: Memorial Day Marathon
NASCAR Barometer: Joey Logano Dominates to Claim Second All-Star Win
NASCAR Barometer: Joey Logano Dominates to Claim Second All-Star Win
NASCAR DFS: NASCAR All-Star Race
NASCAR DFS: NASCAR All-Star Race
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Wright Brand 250
NASCAR DFS Trucks: Wright Brand 250