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Fantasy NASCAR: 2023 Coca-Cola 600 Preview

The 2023 NASCAR All-Star race is officially in the rearview mirror with Kyle Larson winning both the Craftsman Truck Series’ Tyson 250 on Saturday and the All-Star Race and the $1 million top prize Sunday night. North Wilkesboro Speedway played a great host for NASCAR’s mid-season exhibition race. The track surface was old and chewed up tires as expected, but the venue looked great with the new renovations and there’s hope a points race could return in the future, but a re-pave will certainly be needed in that case.

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2023 Coca-Cola 600 Preview

But now we turn our attention to the coming weekend, and it’s a big one if you’re a racing fan. This Sunday will feature the F1 World Championship’s Monaco Grand Prix in the morning, followed by the Indianapolis 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the afternoon, and we cap it off Sunday night with NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway. If you’re a pure racing fan you really soak it in as you enjoy over 1,200 miles of racing between all three events this holiday weekend.

Following the historic return of North Wilkesboro Speedway, NASCAR takes the short trip to the home of racing for a crown jewel event in Charlotte. The Daytona 500 might be the biggest race of the year for NASCAR, but the Coca-Cola 600 marks the longest race with 400 laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Fortunately, we don’t have to endure the lulls of short-track racing because that package just hasn’t delivered too many quality races for NASCAR’s NextGen car. This week’s intermediate package is sure to produce better racing. Comparable tracks to Charlotte include Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas, and to a lesser extent Darlington, Homestead, and Dover. The former three tracks are almost identical comparisons in terms of length and shape, while the surface and banking do vary for each.

This is the longest race on the schedule every year and it’s an absolute war of attrition. Typically, NASCAR races are run in three stages, but the Memorial Day Weekend race at Charlotte gives us four stages, each 100 laps in length. Let’s check out the early contenders and drivers that we should have in our NASCAR DFS driver pool ahead of this weekend’s practice and qualifying sessions.

The Top Picks

Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)

To no surprise, Kyle Larson tops the preliminary list. He has two wins on the season (Richmond and Martinsville) and he took home the $1 million prize at last week’s All-Star race. On the comparable tracks, and in this package in particular, Larson has been elite this year, despite not having a win in this package or track type yet in 2023. He led 63 laps and finished second at Las Vegas in March and he’d follow that up with another runner-up finish at Kansas earlier this month where he once again led 85 laps. He arguably had the fastest car at Dover and Darlington and could have won those races if it weren’t for some ill-timed accidents that could have been at the fault of Ross Chastain on both occasions. Larson has been great at Charlotte, especially since jumping in the 5-car for Hendrick Motorsports. Two years ago he started on the pole and won this race, leading over 320 laps for a 149.5 driver rating. Last year, wasn’t the same story. In fact, it was almost a disaster. Larson had issues with the car, fought to get back on the lead lap, had some penalties, and had to work his way through the field on more than one occasion. Despite all that, he still led 51 laps and finished in the top 10. That’s just how good he is as long as he can run a clean race. For that reason, he is an easy candidate to dominate and win this race once again.

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

Hamlin and the Toyotas have come on strong to contend with the Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports. Hamlin finished fifth at Dover at the beginning of the month and followed that up with a win at Kansas where he led 34 laps. The Toyotas have dominated Kansas in the NextGen car when you consider Hamlin’s win at that track earlier this month and the fact that 23XI swept both Kansas races in 2022. Hamlin won this race last year while only leading 15 laps, but hey, the most important lap to lead is the last one. Everyone should anticipate the Hendrick Chevrolets being fast, but we can’t sleep on Hamlin who has a win and multiple top-five finishes at this track.

William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)

It seems strange to list Byron in this section if we’re looking at track history. In six official races at Charlotte, he only has two top tens in addition to two wrecks. But if we’re looking at pure speed and a driver that can lock up a ton of DFS points, Byron is one of the best candidates. He dominated Vegas earlier in the year leading 176 laps on his way to a win and he finished third at Kansas while leading ten laps as well. He dominated Dover in this package leading 193 laps, but the car faded late as the Toyotas came on strong and Martin Truex Jr. got the win. But still, Byron finished fourth and collected plenty of dominator points. He didn’t have the best car at Darlington but he still won the race after some stage three shenanigans. He’s looked great in this package and on the comparable tracks this year so I see no reason to list him anywhere other than among the top picks.

Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Martin Truex Jr. (#19 Toyota)

It’s definitely been a great rebound year for Truex who had his struggles in the first year of the NextGen car in 2022. Especially of late, there’s been speed in the car at the three races heading into the All-Star race. He led 68 laps and won at Dover, led 79 laps and finished 8th at Kansas, and he was cruising at Darlington leading 145 laps before being caught in a wreck. Wrecks are hard to predict, but it’s still impressive and a positive sign that this team and organization have found speed and turned MTJ back into the dominator he can be after disappearing for a large portion of last season.

Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet)

Chastain has the ability to go out and win any race. However, he just doesn’t do that. His aggressive style has cost him (and other drivers) and the frustration among the field may have finally boiled over after Chastain wrecked himself and Kyle Larson at Darlington two weeks ago. I’m not going to rule out the possibility of someone taking Chastain out at some point, but I’m also not going to avoid playing him in DFS for those reasons. For all the talk of drivers “being done” with Chastain, no one has really retaliated on the track aside from Denny Hamlin earlier this year. Chastain led 98 laps before finishing second at Dover earlier this month and he grabbed a top-five at Kansas. Prior to his wreck at Darlington, he led over 90 laps as well. Even in this race last year he started P22 and finished 15th, but not before collecting 153 laps led and 66 fastest laps so there’s certainly potential for him to go out and collect dominator points so he’s perfect for DFS builds.

Kevin Harvick (#4 Ford)

I don’t trust many Fords nowadays for DFS unless we’re previewing a superspeedway race like Daytona, Talladega, or even Atlanta’s new configuration. However, Kevin Harvick is the one Ford driver I make the exception for. 2023 marks his swansong as he’ll join the Fox booth next year so he wants to go out on a high note. His overall speed has been a good indicator of his reliability this year, even though the finishes aren’t all that impressive. He doesn’t have a win yet, but he finished 9th and 11th at Vegas and Kansas respectively, and he dodged enough bullets to finish second at Darlington a few weeks ago. He started P18 and finished third in this race a year ago and he possesses enough top-ten equity to warrant consideration in DFS contests.

Potential Sleepers

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#47 Chevrolet)

Stenhouse is quietly having himself a very good season. Is there any win equity this weekend? Not really. However, he made some noise to kick off the 2023 campaign by winning the Daytona 500, but he’s actually hung around and had some great finishes at tracks we normally wouldn’t associate him with. Prior to last week’s All-Star race, he had finished in the top 15 in six straight races. Charlotte has also been one of Stenhouse’s best tracks, especially since joining JTG Daugherty Racing. He’s finished 7th, 12th, and 4th in the last three races here and should once again be considered a fine Tournament play again this weekend if he can find the form he was in prior to last week.

Ty Gibbs (#54 Toyota)

Gibbs hasn’t posted the consistent results that Stenhouse has, but he’s showing signs of life in his first full-time season at the Cup level. He spent the latter part of the 2023 season in the 45-car for 23XI racing essentially just collecting owners points and getting accustomed to the NextGen car. He did have a stretch of four straight races in March and April where he finished top ten and he even finished ninth last week at North Wilkesboro. With that said, he’s had some results on this type of track that aren’t glowing endorsements per se. He finished 22nd at Vegas and wrecked at Kansas this year. But the price tag shouldn’t be elevated too much for DFS purposes and I still trust the speed and setup more in this car than I do for a large majority of Fords. In the Xfinity Series, Gibbs won this race in 2021 and finished as the runner-up last year after starting P36. It’s only a matter of time before he truly breaks out and breaks a DFS slate.

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