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Fantasy Racing: Coca-Cola 600

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2009

Coca-Cola 600
Lowe’s Motor Speedway
Sunday, May 24, 5 PM EDT, FOX

30464_NASCAR_600_50th_FlagsRace Facts: Kasey Kahne won last year’s race after Tony Stewart had to pit for a flat tire with just three laps to go… Jimmie Johnson’s win from the 37thstarting spot in 2003 is the furthest back a winner has come from… Johnson’s win in 2003 was the first of three straight 600 wins… The track qualifying record was set by Elliott Sadler in October of 2005 when the track was redone; remember that disastrous race? Since then, qualifying speeds have slowly trended downwards… Johnson and Jeff Gordon have the most wins at Lowe’s of active drivers with five apiece… One more win would tie either of them with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

Drivers to Watch:

Jeff Burton:
Yeah, I took Jeff Burton last week, but I don’t think that people realize how good Burton is at Lowe’s. In 26 starts at Lowe’s, Burton has 15 top 10s and three wins, which equals an average finish of 11.8. In the last two 600s, Burton has finished sixth, and if there was ever a driver who you were going to bank on to finish a race, one of the top choices would be Burton. Burton also won the fall race in 2008, and has only one finish lower than sixth in the last six races.

Brian Vickers:
Vickers was bitten by the bad luck snake last year at Lowe’s, as he dominated the first quarter of the race before creating the ubiquitous highlight of his tire flying into a camper on the infield in turn 4. When Vickers is fast, he’s fast, and if Atlanta and Texas are any indication, Vickers’s first win with Team Red Bull is going to come at an intermediate track. Look for Vickers to hang around the top 10 all night if the team can keep all four tires on it.

Reed Sorenson: Since the Texas race, Sorenson has gained seven spots in the points standings, and Lowe’s has been pretty kind to him. In the last five races at Lowe’s, Sorenson has finished lower than 22nd just once, and finished fourth in the 2007 race (that was decided on fuel mileage). And since his teammate won at Lowe’s last year, Sorenson should have a good baseline from which to draw from. RPM didn’t want to start using the new Dodge engine this week because of potential reliability issues, so what Sorenson may lose in horsepower, he may gain back in durability.

Drivers to Watch Out for:

Juan Pablo Montoya:
Lowe’s has been one of Montoya’s worst tracks statistically, as he’s never finished higher than 28th in his four starts at the track, and has never finished on the lead lap in any of those starts. Despite being 14th in the points standings, Montoya has just two top 10s. If Montoya qualifies well, there’s a great chance that he’ll have the best run of his career at Lowe’s. But if he doesn’t, he’s a candidate to go a lap down fairly quickly and never challenge for the top 10.

Michael Waltrip:
While MWR has made strides with David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, they haven’t with the team’s namesake. After exploding into a fireball at Darlington (didn’t that just happen to him at California last year?) Waltip is just 28th in the standings. To make matters worse, Waltrip has been terrible on the tracks similar to Lowe’s, finishing 25th at Atlanta and 24th at Texas. Stay away from Waltrip, unless your league gives bonus points for dramatic incidents.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
This will probably incur the wrath of Junior Nation, and so be it. Does anyone really expect Junior to turn his season around on Sunday? He has not been a contender at intermediate tracks this season, and while he did finish fifth in last year’s race, he’s not going to duplicate that performance this year. It’s going to take a fuel mileage win like Michigan—something that happened at this race in 2007—if Junior is going to get a win any time soon, and right now, the odds are greater that he’ll finish off the lead lap than get a top 15.

Stone Cold Lock of the Week:

Tony Stewart:
Since 2003, the winner of the Sprint All-Star Race has won the 600 twice (Kahne, 2008; Johnson, 2003) and has finished in the top three two other times. Given Stewart’s history at Lowe’s, he seems like a great bet to continue the trend of great finishes by All-Star Race winners. In 2007, Stewart finished sixth in the 600, and was on track to win last year’s race until a slowly leaking tire forced him to give up the lead with three laps to go. Take Stewart in all formats on Sunday, as he has a great shot of becoming the first owner-driver to win a points race since Ricky Rudd did it at Martinsville in 1998.

Last Race:

Drivers to Watch: Hamlin – 13th, Kahne – 23rd, Burton – 12th

Drivers to Watch Out for: Mears – 36th, Stremme – 24th, Harvick – 11th

Stone Cold Lock of the Week:
Martin – 1st

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2009
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