2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Coca-Cola 600

While the Monaco Grand Prix didn’t kick off the biggest day in motorsports as it usually does, the anticipation level doesn’t fade at all with 1,100 miles being run Sunday between the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. 

The Coke 600 is the longest annual race on the NASCAR schedule and is the league’s love song to the military. It is also the only race of the year where four equal stages are activated instead of the usual three. Each stage will consist of 100 laps. 

For a second-straight weekend, the full at-track schedule was complete as practice and qualifying took center stage leading up to the race. 

Dominating the weekend so far has been Hendrick Motorsports frontman Kyle Larson. He had the fastest consecutive 10-lap average in the lone practice on Friday and earned his ninth-career pole early Saturday morning. While he is with a new team, Larson does not have a good resume in the Coke 600 as he only has one top 10 in six outings. 

Larson’s Hendrick teammate in Chase Elliott is seeking desperate redemption after a last-minute call to pit in the closing laps of last year’s 600 dashed the No. 9 team’s hopes to win the Crown Jewel event. Elliott has another grand opportunity to secure his first Crown Jewel victory as he rolls into Charlotte with momentum after winning at Circuit of the Americas last Sunday. He will start third. 

William Byron had his streak of top-10 finishes end at 11 after finishing 11th at COTA. He should get back on track Sunday as he capped off three Hendrick drivers starting inside the top four. Byron owns one top-10 in three Coke 600 starts. 

While he doesn’t own a victory in a high-downforce race this season, Martin Truex Jr. is no stranger to dominating the longest race of the season. 

In 2016, he put on one of the most dominant individual performances in NASCAR history as he led 392 of 400 laps on his way to a first-career Coke 600 victory. He’s led over 1,000 laps in the race and will roll off from the eighth position. 

Surprise winners have found their way to victory lane at Charlotte, so could Ricky Stenhouse Jr. be next? 

Stenhouse’s No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet had a wicked qualifying lap to put him on the front row. He’s put up contending numbers on the Charlotte oval as he’s scored two top five’s in the last three races. 

Maybe Daniel Suarez could be the guy to shock the world Sunday evening. The No. 99 Chevy for Trackhouse Racing scored a top-10 starting position for the race and posted top-five speed in consecutive lap averages on Friday. It would be perfect timing for Suarez to score his first-career win as he sits 88 points below the playoff cutline. 

After Helio Castroneves’ Indy 500 win, “old guys” may rule the day. 

Kevin Harvick is still seeking his first win of 2021 and could be the guy to get it done Sunday as he possesses two Coke 600 wins. He put down a good qualifying lap and will roll off the grid fifth. 

Ryan Newman hasn’t seen victory lane since 2017, but 2021 hasn’t been all bad for him as he already has a top five this season and more top-10 finishes than all of 2020. He’s starting outside the top 20, but crazy scenarios may unfold over the 600 miles. 

FOX will carry TV coverage for the Coke 600 beginning at 6:00 p.m. EST with the Performance Racing Network providing your auditory needs. Following the conclusion of stage two, NASCAR will bring the field to pit road, shut off car engines and honor and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with a Moment of Remembrance. 

Starting lineup:

Pit stall assignments:

Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/05/25/goodyear-fast-facts-charlotte-7/

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