Drivers to watch in Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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The NASCAR industry is ready for a race in its backyard at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports reigned supreme in the 2021 running of the sport’s longest race. Will that translate to more success with the Next Gen car?

FRONT RUNNERS

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 6th  Dover; 36th — Darlington; 2nd — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Won this race last year

As part of his electric 2021, Larson dominated last year’s Coca-Cola 600. The eventual Cup champion led 327 of 400 laps en route to his first Charlotte victory, leading Hendrick Motorsports’ incredible night running 1-2 for 356 laps.

Larson’s only win this season came at the abrasive 2-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway back in February, but he was runner-up two weeks ago at Kansas, a 1.5-mile oval similar to Charlotte. The No. 5 Chevrolet might be in position to score win No. 2 of the year Sunday night.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: WIN Dover; 5th — Darlington; 29th — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Three straight top-two finishes

Elliott is still looking for his first Coca-Cola 600 victory, but his recent results at Charlotte make the 2020 champion a favorite this weekend. Elliott has finished second in each of the past two 600-milers and won on the Charlotte oval in 2020 when NASCAR held a second event there returning from the COVID pandemic.

The series points leader had a six-race top-10 streak come to an end at Kansas after a flat tire derailed a solid day for the No. 9 team. Without issues this weekend, Elliott should be in the mix Sunday.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th  Dover; 33rd — Darlington; 3rd — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Five straight top-four finishes

Few, if any, are better than Busch at Charlotte right now. The 2018 Coca-Cola 600 winner has finished inside the top-four in each of the past five races, including a third-place finish a season ago, coupled with seven top 10s in his last 10 600-mile starts.

His recent stats have been encouraging, scoring six top 10s in his last seven starts, a stretch that includes his Bristol dirt win and two other third-place finishes. As the rest of his Toyota companions find their rhythm — all six Toyotas finished inside the top 10 at Kansas — Busch looks to remain the manufacturer’s top dog.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 26th  Dover; 17th — Darlington; 12th — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Finished 13th last year

The No. 12 Ford leads the field in average running position this season, but its results have been less than encouraging. Blaney has yet to score a top-10 finish in each of the past four races, his best result in that span an 11th-place effort at Talladega.

His numbers at Charlotte aren’t the best either. In seven starts in the Coca-Cola 600, Blaney has finished 13th or worse six times. The exception was a third-place finish in 2020. But the team gained some — if slight — momentum in last weekend’s All-Star Race at Texas, where he led 84 of 140 laps on his way to winning $1 million. The team could use those good vibes heading into Charlotte.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 30th Dover; 2nd — Darlington; 30th — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Two top-10 finishes in three starts

The sample size is small, but the results are strong for Tyler Reddick around the 1.5-mile oval in Charlotte. The two-time Xfinity Series champion has finished eighth (2020) and ninth (2021) in his two starts in the Coca-Cola 600. Sandwiched between those is a 14th-place finish in the second Charlotte race of 2020.

Reddick is in need of consistent, good finishes. He had two runner-up finishes in the past five races, but the other three results are 30th or worse. The speed is there. Perhaps he gets back on track Sunday night.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 21st
  • Last three races: 8th Dover; 16th — Darlington; 27th — Kansas
  • Recent at Charlotte: Three straight top 10s in Coke 600

Buescher often flies under the radar, but the 2015 Xfinity Series champion has done particularly well in the sport’s longest event of the season. Buescher has three straight top-10 results in the 600, including a sixth-place finish in 2019 and eighth last season.

His 2022 season is a little more difficult to decipher. He has six top-15 finishes in the year’s first 13 races, including an eighth-place finish at Dover where he won his first career NASCAR pole. The No. 17 Ford didn’t show much speed at Kansas, placing 26th. But his recent success on the Charlotte oval makes him an interesting watch this weekend.