Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Coca-Cola 600

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Track history: Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner built the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959. On June 19, 1960, the first World 600 was held at the Concord, NC track. Over the years, thousands of grandstand seats and luxury suites were added. In 1984, Charlotte added 40 condominiums above turn one, and 12 more in 1991, offering year-round living at a modern racing facility. In 1992, at a cost of $1.7 million, a 1,200-fixture MUSCO lighting system was added. This system uses mirrors to simulate daylight without glare or light poles. Charlotte became the first superspeedway to hold a night-time auto race. A $1 million 20,000 square-foot Cup garage was opened in 1994. Besides the 1.5-mile quad oval, Charlotte has a 2.25-mile road course, a karting layout in the infield, a quarter-mile and fifth-mile layouts as well. Across the U.S. 29, a .4 mile dirt track opened in 2000 and the four-lane zMax Dragway opened in 2008.

In 2011, CMS unveiled the world’s largest video screen. It measures 80 by 200 foot and weighs 165,000 pounds.

June 19, 1960: After driving the John Hines owned No. 22 Pontiac to a 133.904 mph qualifying lap, Fireball Roberts started on the pole for the first NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 1960 World 600. After leading the first 191 laps of the 400 lap event, Roberts crashed and placed 35th. Joe Lee Johnson, in Paul McDuffie’s No. 89 Chevrolet, started 20th and won the race in front of 35,462 fans. The average race speed for that event was 107.735 mph.

May 27, 2012: Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 from a seventh place start. It was the No. 5 Chevrolet driver's first victory and sixth top-10 finish in 2012 and his fourth victory (third Coca-Cola 600) and ninth top-10 finish in 17 races at Charlotte. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: No. 11 Denny Hamlin 13 laps, finished second; No. 9 Marcos Ambrose 20 laps, finished 32nd; No. 18 Kyle Busch 55 laps, finished third; Race-winner Kahne 96 laps and No. 16 Greg Biffle led the most laps (204 of 400) and finished fourth. Pole-sitter No. 43 Aric Almirola led three laps and finished 16th.

October 13, 2012: Clint Bowyer won the 53rd Annual Bank of America 500, his eighth victory in 248 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. It was the No. 15 Toyota Camry driver’s third victory in 2012 and his first at Charlotte. Drivers leading 10 or more laps: Race-winner Bowyer led 29 laps; No. 11 Denny Hamlin 36 laps, finished second; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 53 laps, finished third; Pole-sitter No. 16 Greg Biffle 71 laps, finished fourth and No. 2 Brad Keselowski led the most laps (139 of 334) and finished 11th.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Clint Bowyer 10/13/12, Kasey Kahne 5/27/12, Matt Kenseth 10/15/11, Kevin Harvick 5/29/11 and Jamie McMurray 10/16/10.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Michael Waltrip 5/26/85, Kevin Lepage 10/5/97, Elliott Sadler 5/24/98, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5/30/99, Jimmie Johnson 10/7/01, Brian Vickers 10/11/03, David Reutimann 10/15/05 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 5/11/11.
First Cup pole: Jeff Gordon 10/10/93, Derrike Cope 10/4/98, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5/28/00, Ryan Newman 5/27/01 and Aric Almirola 5/27/12.
First Cup win: Jeff Gordon 5/29/94, Bobby Labonte 5/28/95, Matt Kenseth 5/28/00, Jamie McMurray 10/13/02, Casey Mears 5/27/07 and David Reutimann 5/25/09.

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 20 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth.  There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, North Carolina.

Mid-Pack picks

Last October at Charlotte, Regan Smith took the wheel in the No. 88 Chevrolet after Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in the previous week's race at Talladega. Smith started 26th, was up to 14th by lap 28, cracked the top-10 on lap 52 but lost the engine about 10 laps later. Prior to that race, he carried a 17.7 average finish in seven Cup starts at CMS.  This will be his sixth Cup race in 2013. He has averaged a 16.2 finish in the five starts, including top-10s at Daytona and Talladega. Smith, the current point leader in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, will have a 'warm-up' race this Saturday in the NNS History 300 event at Charlotte. It's a good week to choose the No. 51 Chevrolet SS driver.

Hardly a mid-packer, but at 27th in the points, Denny Hamlin is fair game for this column. In 15 starts at the Concord, NC track, he has a 14.1 average finish, eight top-10s and three top-fives. The top-fives were logged in his last five starts at this track. After missing six races (only started at Talladega, was relieved at first caution) due to his injury suffered at Fontana, he started sixth and finished second at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago. This is the longest race of the season, but it's safe to expect Hamlin is recovered enough to add to that list of top-10s this weekend. Save one of your track favorites for another week. Use the No. 11 Toyota Camry instead.

Statistically, Charlotte Motor Speedway was Joey Logano's best track with his old team at Joe Gibbs Racing. In eight Cup starts here in the JGR ride, his average finish was a 10.1 with a best of third in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600. New year, new Penske team, same Logano. In last week's All-Star Race at Charlotte, he ran a fifth-best average finish over the first four segments and then raced from fourth to finish second in the final 10-lap segment. He will be pulling the Charlotte double again this week with an entry in Saturday's History 300 Nationwide Series race. He holds an 8.9 average finish in that series at this track including a win in the October 2012 race. Logano has only cracked the top 20 in three of the last seven races this season but we think the No. 22 Ford Fusion will make it four out of eight this weekend.

Our deepest pick is ROTY candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In his first two Charlotte starts in the Nationwide Series he wrecked both times in the first dozen laps. After he got that out of his system, he averaged a 12th place finish in has last five NNS races at the track. He has a very limited Sprint Cup history at CMS. In the 2011 Coke 600-miler, the Wood Brothers put him in their famous No. 21 Ford. He started ninth and finished 11th. Last season, while still working on his second Nationwide Series title (which he won), Roush Fenway entered him in four Cup races. At Charlotte, he had a DNF due to a blown engine after 190 laps of the 334 lap October race. It didn't look like he would have finished in the top-20 anyway in that race. Stenhouse has finished only two races out of the top 20 in the first 11 races so far this season. This gives us a feeling the No. 17 Ford Fusion will add another top-20 in Sunday's event. 


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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