The longest race of the season is upon us as NASCAR heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600.
That means the second half of the regular season begins. The opening 13 races of the Next Gen era have provided plenty of storylines heading into Charlotte.
Parity highlights opening half
Eleven different drivers have gone to victory lane in 13 races this season, tied for the second-most number of winners in that span in Cup history, according to Racing Insights.
Among those include drivers you’d expect to see celebrating: Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. But the list of victors also includes names you probably didn’t expect: rookie Austin Cindric winning the Daytona 500; Chase Briscoe winning at Phoenix; Ross Chastain and William Byron tied with two wins apiece as the series’ leaders.
With the exception of Chastain at Trackhouse Racing and Kurt Busch at 23XI Racing, the winners are still coming from the sport’s traditional powerhouses: Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing.
But a rotating cast of characters have been in the mix throughout the year, including Richard Childress Racing’s duo of Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, Petty GMS Motorsports’ Erik Jones and JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse has three straight top-10 finishes, tied for the longest streak of his career and the longest streak for JTG.
Expecting another 11 drivers to win between now and the regular season finale at Daytona is unreasonable. But perhaps the parity produces some more surprises heading into this year’s playoffs.
Trials of the winless
While the list of 2022 winners is long, there are some notable absences this season, including past Cup champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.
Harvick is in the midst of a 56-race winless streak, the second-longest of his career and a span dating back to the Bristol night race in September 2020. Since that win, the 2014 champion has finished runner-up four times with scored 13 total top-five finishes.
Keselowski’s streak is over a season long, sitting at 39 races since his Talladega win in April 2021. At RFK Racing, Keselowski has just one top 10 — ninth in the Daytona 500 — and six top 15s.
Truex has contended for multiple wins this season, most notably at Las Vegas and Richmond. His winless streak sits at 21 races, dating back to Richmond in September 2021.
The cars have changed, but Hendrick Motorsports remains the same — dominant.
All four Hendrick drivers have won this season thanks to wins at Auto Club (Larson), Las Vegas (Alex Bowman), Atlanta (Byron), Martinsville (Byron) and Dover (Elliott). The team has also won four of the last five races at 1.5-mile tracks.
Last year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte was a Hendrick playground, as Larson won the race and each stage from the pole, and HMS cars ran first and second for 356 of the 400 laps.
While that appears less likely to happen this year, the team shows it can’t be counted out.
Thirty-seven cars will compete in the Cup race this weekend. The No. 50 The Money Team Racing Chevrolet and driver Kaz Grala are the lone open entry this weekend.
Noah Gragson will pilot the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet and Josh Bilicki returns to the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. Ryan Preece will drive the No. 15 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.
NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Xfinity Series sees 42 cars on its entry list for 38 positions, meaning four cars will fail to qualify. Preece will pilot the No. 5 car for BJ McLeod Motorsports. Nick Sanchez will be Preece’s teammate driving the No. 99 entry.
Trevor Bayne will drive the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Austin Dillon will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet for Big Machine Racing, which got its first victory last week at Texas with Tyler Reddick.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Charlotte Motor Speedway
In the Camping World Truck Series, 37 vehicles are entered for 36 spots, meaning one will fail to qualify.
Ross Chastain is back in the No. 41 truck for Niece Motorsports, while Kyle Busch returns to the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. In a triple-duty effort, Preece will drive the No. 17 Ford for David Gilliland Racing.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Charlotte Motor Speedway
This weekend’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Friday, May 27
Forecast: AM thunderstorms likely, then chance of PM scattered thunderstorms, high of 77 degrees, 90% chance of rain
- 12 – 12:45 p.m. — ARCA practice and qualifying
- 1:30 – 2 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
- 2 – 3 p.m. — Truck qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, FS1)
- 3:30 – 4 p.m — Xfinity practice (FS1)
- 4 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, FS1)
- 6 p.m. — ARCA race (100 laps/150 miles; FS1, MRN)
- 8:30 p.m. — Truck race (134 laps/201 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Saturday, May 28
Forecast: Partly cloudy, 15% chance of rain, high near 80 degrees, winds west at 5-10 mph
- 1 p.m. — Xfinity race (167 laps/250.5 miles, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 7 – 7:45 p.m. — Cup practice (two groups, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 7:45 – 9 p.m. — Cup qualifying (single vehicle, one lap, two rounds, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, May 29
Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 84 degrees, light winds
- 6 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps/600 miles; FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)