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Podium Preview: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

Denny Hamlin put on a stomper of a pole lap. (Photo: Kathryne Porter | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin put on a stomper of a pole lap. (Photo: Kathryne Porter | The Podium Finish)

No matter the players or the cars on the track, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway remains a true crown jewel race for NASCAR.

For 600 miles or 400 laps, drivers and teams are put to the test in one of the most grueling, physical races in the Cup Series. Attrition runs high, patience and stamina deplete but the eyes on the major prize are as steely eyed as Indiana Jones pursuing the Holy Grail.

Last year, Kyle Larson parlayed a dominant Coca-Cola 600 victory en route to a championship run. However, the path toward another 600 victory will be difficult as he’ll start 36th in Sunday night’s race.

Then again, if there’s a race where a poor qualifying starting spot can be overcome, it’s this race. Strategies can bring drivers back into the game as much as a fast car and pit crew that delivers sub 12 second pit stops. In other words, it’s a race you don’t want to miss.

This weekend, Ashley Hobbs, Cody ShoppeJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan SolomonTaylor Kitchen and yours truly think about a driver and team that’ll enjoy the long race, Team Penske’s chances and those seeking their first win of the season.

Podium Preview: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
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Question 1
Does this race have the makings of a Martin Truex Jr. victory? (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Does this race have the makings of a Martin Truex Jr. victory? (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 has typically played out as a race that places emphasis on handling with the transition from dusk to nightfall. Which driver and team seems most likely to get the best grip on this aspect come Sunday evening?

Solomon : With two Coca-Cola 600 victories, Martin Truex Jr. knows how to manage this race better than anyone. He knows how he wants his car in both phases of the race – daytime and nightime. Obviously, the track will change a ton throughout the race and both drivers and crew chiefs will have to keep up with it. That being said, I expect Truex Jr. to have strong race and contend throughout all 400 laps.

Tiongson : In terms of adjusting to changing track conditions, I’d say Ross Chastain and Trackhouse Racing are mastering this. Phil Surgen and the No. 1 team dial their car to Chastain’s liking to carve out those top five and top 10 results.

Typically, I’d say Chastain wouldn’t be the top choice for the 600 given how it’s still a race of patience, not one welcoming overaggression. I’ve seen Chastain evolve as a driver who’s composed, cunning and empowered by the team around him. Outside of the Hendrick campus, Chastain and the No. 1 team will likely excel on Sunday night.

Kitchen : To be quite transparent, I am not sure which team is going to handle this transition the best. With the Gen 7 car, some of the teams that have had it figured out before, may struggle on Sunday.

In the past, I remember Kyle Busch has done well with figuring out that dust to nightfall transition, so I will have my eye on him this Sunday.

Lambeth :  With the teams bringing the new Cup car to Charlotte for the first time, it’s hard to predict which driver and team will do the best job keeping up with the changing track conditions. However, look for the usual suspects such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske to rise above the rest. 

But people really need to take Trackhouse Racing seriously because they are legitimate contenders each week. It’s not uncommon for some drivers to get their first Cup victory in the Coca-Cola 600. After watching his teammate Ross Chastain find plenty of success with two wins this year, could you imagine the party if Daniel Suarez could get the No. 99 Chevrolet into victory lane?

Question 2
Will Joey Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske crew net their first points race win of 2022? (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Will Joey Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske crew net their first points race win of 2022? (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

We saw Team Penske showcase some speed last Sunday night during the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. While Texas and Charlotte are vastly different, is there some credence to this organization’s great pace at intermediates, particularly for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600?

Shoppe : Team penske has been quietly strong all season long up until the Darling, Dover, Kansas stretch. The all Star race dominance will turn things around for the leading Ford team. After hearing Johnathan Hassler crew chief for ryan blaney on sxm nascar radio this week, they have confidence they have things back on track. 

Raynor : The Penske team has definitely been working hard at the last few tracks and are slowly gaining ground. I think they are heading in the right direction and if they can pace themselves throughout the 600, they will be there in the end and we will see a couple of the drivers finish in the top 10. 

Sharpe :  I don’t exactly believe it’s so much the tracks that correlate with one another, but the teams unlocking and figuring out how to run the cars. These Next Gen cars have proven to be quite the tricky puzzle to solve. The new cars with new tires have been a blessing to some while a curse to others. Perhaps Team Penske has figured something the other teams haven’t yet and will dominate the rest of the season.

Sisoler :  There could be. Like was mentioned, Texas and Charlotte are vastly different, but more laps on the cars are showing that Penske is a tough team on intermediate tracks. If they play their cards right and the cautions fall their way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple Penske Mustangs in the top 10 when the checkered flag falls late on Sunday night.

Question 3
Brad's home. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Brad’s home. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

As the second half of the regular season kicks off this Sunday evening at Charlotte, which driver and team needs to step up their game for a postseason push?

Torres : Flashes of brilliance are there but both Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez need to have luck in order to back their results up. Those guys can get into victory lane and really make the playoff battle saucy. However, if Wallace’s crew can’t get it together nor Suarez can’t avoid getting into problems, it’s game over for their campaign.

Hobbs : Anyone who has not won yet needs to fix that. Half way through and 68.75% (11 of 16) Playoff spots ‘locked up’ with winners only leaves 5 spaces up for grabs (in theory). Some powerhitters have yet to win this season – Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Ryan Blaney being some of those big names. They may get in on points, but the best way is to just win, and win often.

Three laps around Charlotte’s always enjoyable stuff with an ice cold Coca-Cola! Before we return to Charlotte, let’s consider the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas with our race and points reports!
A trio of panelists earned a podium finish with Kyle Busch.

A trio of panelists earned a podium finish with Kyle Busch.

Presently, Solomon enjoys his decent advantage over the author of this preview.

Presently, Solomon enjoys his decent advantage over the author of this preview.

Ashley Hobbs crunches those numbers so you can be well informed about the trends for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte!
Let's consider how your favorite team fares in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Let’s consider how your favorite team fares in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

The Coca-Cola 600 race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, leads an average of 132.2 laps, starts within the top five 50% of the time and starts within the top 10 66.67% of the time.

The Coca-Cola 600 race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, leads an average of 132.2 laps, starts within the top five 50% of the time and starts within the top 10 66.67% of the time.

Chase from the same place loves Charlotte.

Chase from the same place loves Charlotte.

Now, here's the trends in the past 10 runnings of the Coca-Cola 600 since 2012.

Now, here’s the trends in the past 10 runnings of the Coca-Cola 600 since 2012.

The trends slow down in the past five runnings of the Coca-Cola 600.

The trends slow down in the past five runnings of the Coca-Cola 600.

Our machine thinks it's time for 24.

Our machine thinks it’s time for 24.

These are your top 10 starters for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Row 1
Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch (Kathryne Porter and Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch (Kathryne Porter and Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
William Byron and Austin Cindric (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

William Byron and Austin Cindric (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Last but not least, here’s our picks to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte!
It's like playing darts. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

It’s like playing darts. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Hobbs : While Chase Elliott has been relatively quiet this season, he happens to be the driver with the best average finish this season and is in the top-10 for average finish on intermediate tracks this year. And, as a whole, Elliott seems to do quite well in races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

TPF Stats : At some point, the Machine was bound to max out the picks and it has come time for Chase Elliott to add another victory to his name his season.

Shoppe : Just have a feeling Chase Elliott will do that best at keeping up with the ever changing track over 600 miles in Charlotte!

Torres : Endurance is key. Hendrick Motorsports did that last year with Kyle Larson. I see that going to Chase Elliott this year. He’s racked up a lot of points but has no wins in his arsenal. That’ll change with a major win to put him into a much more comfortable zone to be a playoff contender.

Lambeth : Christopher Bell has figured out qualifying but he hasn’t been able to breakthrough yet with a race win in 2022. NASCAR’s longest race of 600 miles will feature changing track conditions with the day-to-night transition. We’ll see comers and goers throughout the night. However, when it matters the most, I believe the No. 20 Toyota Camry will put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane this time around in the Queen City!

Sharpe : Bell did incredible with practice and qualifying ending up in the top 10. His strong performance should pay off and give the JGR a solid win.

Raynor : William Byron has finished in the top five at Charlotte before and can win it this year.

Solomon : Kurt Busch is riding momentum off a recent win and it seems like Toyota and 23XI Racing have found something. All six Toyota drivers are trending upward and Busch is one of the hottest drivers right now. I think Busch will continue his strong stretch on Sunday, and with his veteran experience, he’ll manage the race better than anyone else for his second victory in three races.

Sisoler : While he didn’t make the top 10 in qualifying for this year’s Coca-Cola 600, Martin Truex Jr., who is set to start 14th, probably doesn’t mind that. Two of his three wins at Charlotte have come with him starting in the 10-19 range, and his last win at Charlotte? From 14th on the grid in the 2019 Coca-Cola 600 when he led 116 of 400 laps. Expect MTJ to lead the way when the checkered flag falls at the end of 600 miles.

Tiongson : If I applied logic, let’s just say Ross Chastain wins because it’s the last race of the month. His first Cup wins at COTA and Talladega happened at the end of March and April. But looking outside of trends, Chastain stands out to me because he’s racing with the highest level of confidence I’ve seen from him in his entire stock car career. Along with a great crew chief in Phil Surgen and a phenomenal pit crew, how could you not go with Chastain?

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week! While we progress toward a new kind of normal, please do your part to curb the impacts of the pandemic by washing your hands and getting your COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $30 or more, use coupon code TPF2022 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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