News & Media


Driver Reports: Previewing the Coca-Cola 600

May 23, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Kasey Kahne Coca-Cola 600

Will steadily improving Kahne break through at Charlotte?

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 394 points.
Past five races: 1st at Kansas, 39th at Talladega, 2nd at Richmond, 7th at Darlington, 2nd at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Gordon's average finish is 18.7 and his average running position is 15.1 over the past nine years. In 42 career starts at Charlotte, he has five wins, 16 top-fives, 22 top-10s and nine poles.
Quick hit: Gordon doesn't dominate at Charlotte like he once did -- his last win in the 600 came in 1998, and he finished 35th last year after a crash. The biggest thing Gordon has going for him Sunday is the power of Hendrick Motorsports equipment underneath him. This 400-lap race tests drivers' wherewithal and the reliability of their car, and Gordon will be among the strongest in the field in both categories.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 379 points.
Past five races: 10th at Kansas, 37th at Talladega, 5th at Richmond, 4th at Darlington, 7th at Texas.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Kenseth's average finish is 14.5 and his average running position is 13.9 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at Charlotte, he has two wins, eight top-fives and 15 top-10s.
Quick hit: Kenseth won his first Coca-Cola 600, but he hasn't been back to Victory Lane for this race. You can generally count on Kenseth for a top-10 in the 600 -- he has four of them in the past six events -- but the Joe Gibbs Racing team's struggles on intermediate tracks under the new rules package is a concern.

3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is third in the standings with 373 points.
Past five races: 15th at Kansas, 12th at Talladega, 3rd at Richmond, 6th at Darlington, 3rd at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Busch's average finish is 14.0 and his average running position is 9.7 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Charlotte, he has nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Even with a blown engine last year and a crash in 2011, Busch's statistics at Charlotte are ranked in the top three among active drivers. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, he's logged three top-fives (all third-place finishes) in six 600 starts. The No. 18 team is among the best when determining a late-race strategy for this event, too, so count on 'Rowdy' being near the front with 30 laps to go.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is fourth in the standings with 368 points.
Past five races: 5th at Kansas, 26th at Talladega, 7th at Richmond, 2nd at Darlington, 43rd at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 21.9 and his average running position is 19.6 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at Charlotte, he has five top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: This may be the year Junior breaks through for his first-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Charlotte. He has two top-fives in three races this year on 1.5-mile tracks (and he had a strong car at Texas before wrecking), along with the momentum that comes with his perhaps his best-ever start to a season. Nothing would delight the home crowd more.

5. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is fifth in the standings with 367 points.
Past five races: 6th at Kansas, 30th at Talladega, 9th at Richmond, 13th at Darlington, 14th at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Edwards' average finish is 11.8 and his average running position is 14.7 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at Charlotte, he has five top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Edwards' average finish at Charlotte in the loop data era is third among active drivers. He rarely runs poorly here, but he's typically not a threat to win, either. Given the strength of Edwards' car in the Sprint All-Star Race, perhaps that changes Sunday night.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 346 points.
Past five races: 4th at Kansas, 32nd at Talladega, 1st at Richmond, 35th at Darlington, 1st at Texas.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Logano's average finish is 10.4 and his average running position is 14.7 over the past nine years. In 10 career starts at Charlotte, he has three top-fives and six top-10s.
Quick hit: Logano has two top-fives in the past three Coca-Cola 600 races, two wins already this year and is coming off a fourth-place showing at Kansas (another 1.5-mile track) in which he led 63 laps. He might be the favorite among Ford drivers to put the manufacturer back in Victory Lane following the 600 for the first time since Mark Martin did it in 2002.

7. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is seventh in the standings with 340 points.
Past five races: 9th at Kansas, 23rd at Talladega, 32nd at Richmond, 3rd at Darlington, 25th at Texas.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Johnson's average finish is 12.8 and his average running position is 7.8 over the past nine years. In 25 career starts at Charlotte, he has six wins, 12 top-fives, 16 top-10s and three poles. He has added to that with a fourth pole for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.
Quick hit: Johnson's name is synonymous with Charlotte success, given his six wins at the track. His recent track record, though, suggests a less-than-optimal performance may be at hand. Johnson's recent dominance has come during the fall races -- he's finished outside the top 10 in six consecutive Coca-Cola 600s. Pair that with a less-than-ideal start to 2014, and it seems Johnson will have to wait until next month to pick up his first win of the season. However, he will start from the pole position on Sunday.

8. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is eighth in the standings with 332 points.
Past five races: 11th at Kansas, 18th at Talladega, 8th at Richmond, 10th at Darlington, 16th at Texas.
Season stats: 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Newman's average finish is 18.3 and his average running position is 17.5 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Charlotte, he has four top-fives, 10 top-10s and nine poles.
Quick hit: Newman's average career start at Charlotte is 7.0, and he has nine poles in 26 races -- an average of one in every 2.9 starts. Yet with all of his starts up front, Newman doesn't have a win at the 1.5-mile track. His average running position in the past nine years is outside the top 15, and his last top-five at the track was in 2009.

9. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is ninth in the standings with 328 points.
Past five races: 16th at Kansas, 2nd at Talladega, 15th at Richmond, 5th at Darlington, 6th at Texas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Biffle's average finish is 16.0 and his average running position is 14.6 over the past nine years. In 22 career starts at Charlotte, he has five top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Biffle has quietly put together a consistent stretch of five races over a variety of track distances. His team appears to be on the upswing after five consecutive finishes outside the top 10 early in the season. Expect more of the same Sunday -- a top-10 run with an outside shot at the win.

10. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 10th in the standings with 327 points.
Past five races: 14th at Kansas, 4th at Talladega, 12th at Richmond, 26th at Darlington, 4th at Texas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Vickers' average finish is 21.4 and his average running position is 19.8 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Charlotte, he has two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Vickers has been in the mix to challenge for a win in a couple of races this year. While you shouldn't expect that to continue at Charlotte -- his average finish and average place rank outside the top 20 -- there are still tracks coming up where the No. 55 is better suited for a victory.

11. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is 11th in the standings with 326 points.
Past five races: 13th at Kansas, 38th at Talladega, 4th at Richmond, 17th at Darlington, 15th at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Keselowski's average finish is 16.3 and his average running position is 16.1 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Charlotte, he has one win, two top-fives, two top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Keselowski won last year's fall race, and has routinely qualified at the front of the field this season (his starting position of second on Sunday will be his ninth top-five starts in 12 races). Yet he's struggled to piece together strong finishes, with just one top-10 -- a fourth-place finish -- in the past eight races. The veteran never recovered from a similar stretch last year, although with a win in the bank and a new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format in 2014, there's less pressure this season.

12. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 12th in the standings with 318 points.
Past five races: 18th at Kansas, 1st at Talladega, 22nd at Richmond, 19th at Darlington, 13th at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Charlotte, Hamlin's average finish is 13.2 and his average running position is 12.3 over the past nine years. In 17 career starts at Charlotte, he has four top-fives, 10 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Hamlin's outstanding recent success at Charlotte mirrors that of fellow JGR teammate Kyle Busch. The concern is the same here, too -- are the Gibbs teams good enough on 1.5-mile tracks for Hamlin to be a serious contender? At the very least, Hamlin should continue his trend of seven consecutive top-10s at the track.

13. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 13th in the standings with 318 points.
Past five races: 12th at Kansas, 9th at Talladega, 16th at Richmond, 8th at Darlington, 5th at Texas.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: In his one career start at Charlotte, Larson finished 37th in 2013 with an average running position of 22.0.
Quick hit: Larson was impressive in last year's fall race at Charlotte before his engine blew up. His Sprint Showdown outing wasn't sparkling, but with teammate Jamie McMurray winning the Sprint All-Star Race, perhaps the No. 42 team can glean information in advance of Sunday's race.

14. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 14th in the standings with 306 points.
Past five races: 19th at Kansas, 15th at Talladega, 27th at Richmond, 11th at Darlington, 21st at Texas.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon has not started a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte. In four Nationwide Series starts, he has one top-five, two top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: One interesting note about Dillon: Yes, he only has one top-10 this year, but he has three 11th-place finishes. He's close to having four top-10s, and that sort of consistency would put him in the Chase field if the season ended today. Expect another top-20 -- and maybe more -- Sunday. His Richard Childress Racing equipment should last until the end.

15. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 15th in the standings with 302 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Kansas, 7th at Talladega, 11th at Richmond, 1st at Darlington, 42nd at Texas.
Season stats: 2 wins, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Charlotte, Harvick's average finish is 16.2 and his average running position is 17.8 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at Charlotte, he has two wins, three top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Harvick has won two of the past three Coca-Cola 600s, and he's driving better now and sitting in better equipment than he did in either of those two victories. What does it all mean? Harvick is the odds-on favorite to win Sunday night. And if he does, don't expect him to lead just 28 laps like last year. Think triple digits.

16. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Kahne is 16th in the standings with 294 points.
Past five races: 3rd at Kansas, 8th at Talladega, 14th at Richmond, 37th at Darlington, 11th at Texas.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Kahne's average finish is 10.2 and his average running position is 11.3 over the past nine years. In 20 career starts at Charlotte, he has four wins, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s.
Quick hit: If the postseason began today, Kahne would be on the outside looking in. Good thing that's not the case. With one of the best histories at Charlotte among active drivers, look for Kahne to continue his streak of five consecutive top-10s at the track (four of which were top-fives) and continue his climb up the standings.

28. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 28th in the standings with 211 points.
Past five races: 29th at Kansas, 33rd at Talladega, 23rd at Richmond, 31st at Darlington, 39th at Texas.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Charlotte, Busch's average finish is 19.4 and his average running position is 16.9 over the past nine years. In 27 career starts at Charlotte, he has one win, six top-fives and seven top-10s.
Quick hit: Racing at Charlotte is just half of Busch's day. He'll compete in the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday, then fly down to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600. His team owner Tony Stewart is the only driver to complete every lap of both races on the same day, something that is no doubt Busch's goal.