Denny Hamlin won the non-points All-Star Race at Charlotte last week, his first Cup win of any kind there. He’ll get another crack at the track this week as the Coca-Cola 600 headlines a glorious Sunday of auto racing.
It starts bright and early as the sun rises with the Monaco Grand Prix Formula-One race (5 am PT), then just as breakfast is served you get to watch the Indy 500 (9 am PT). Just when you start to get hungry again and thirsty for a beer, NASCAR’s 12th race of the season takes center stage (3:15 pm PT).
I know Lewis Hamilton is dominating again in F-1 with Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel a notch below. In the IndyCar Series, I know the Penske Racing cars are the ones to beat and I’ve always liked Juan Pablo Montoya, so that’s who I’ll root for.
I will watch both races regardless on my limited current knowledge on them and my only bet between the two will be Montoya to win at 7-to-1 at the Westgate SuperBook.
The Indy 500 has always been kind of a holiday every year of my life and that won’t change, but I’m certainly at the lowest point of interest ever and think millions of other Americans have kind of the same feeling.
However, NASCAR is an entirely different story as my interest seems to have grown. I’m excited about seeing the longest race of the season, but also come in with hopes we don’t see the same type of racing we saw during the All-Star Race where there was very little passing – only four different lap leaders.
Hamlin’s win last week showed that Joe Gibbs Racing can compete on 1.5-mile tracks with the Stewart-Haas duo of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch as well as Hendrick Motorsports Jimmie Johnson.
Harvick has finished first of second on four 1.5s so far this season and Johnson has won three of the four. Hamlin got the win, but it’s not a points race, so it doesn’t count except for the big $1 million check he got.
What we can take away from the All-Star Race was practice and how the cars moved during the race. Aside from Hamlin winning, Kurt Busch and Harvick were the most impressive.
Jeff Gordon also performed better than Johnson, which is a good sign because he hadn’t fared too well on 1.5s, or at least early on. He’s progressively gotten better and had a best of fourth at the last one in Kansas.
With the race being so long, as always, it’s about who can adjust to changing conditions the best. The race starts in the day, moves to dusk and then at night. All three changes alter the way the car handles.
Jimmie Johnson’s crew won that battle last year which gave him a fourth Coca-Cola 600 win and seventh overall at Charlotte, not including his four All-Star race wins. Johnson’s win last season was his first on a 1.5-mile track in 2014 and he would go onto win Texas later in the year.
In 2015, Johnson has gone 3-for-4 already on them. He wasn’t impressive in the All-Star Race, but he’s a tough guy to go against at Charlotte.
Harvick won in the fall at Charlotte last season for his third career win there, and since then has finished second or better on all seven 1.5-mile tracks. The races he didn’t win, Johnson did. That’s a pretty telling stretch for both drivers making it hard to come up with reasons why they won’t win again this week.
The best argument for betting against them is Kurt Busch, who actually had his driver rating match Harvick’s on a 1.5-mile track for the first time this season. Busch had the fastest five and 10-consecutive lap averages during All-Star practice,.
Kyle Busch looked good Saturday night in his return and gave further evidence that JGR cars are getting close to being ready to halt Harvick and Johnson’s run. Sunday’s race will be his first official race of 2015 and he’ll be looking for his first career Charlotte Cup win. It’s surprising he doesn’t have one because he’s ran very well there with 10 top-five finishes in 22 starts.
Joey Logano has the best career average finish (10th) at Charlotte among all active drivers. He’s led 179 laps on the four 1.5s this season and won twice on them last season. His teammate, Brad Keselowski, won on them three times last season, but Harvick and Johnson have been hogging them all up lately. Both Penske drivers are right next to Kurt Busch as the most likely drivers to topple Harvick and Johnson.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].