The longest race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the Coca Cola 600, takes the green flag Sunday evening, May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. If you've got the endurance to stay up and watch the Cup Series stars take on the famed 1.5-mile track, here are my choices for drivers to watch.
Jimmie Johnson - Johnson leads active drivers at Charlotte Motor Speedway with six wins, eight additional top 10 finishes and three poles in 21 races. With an average starting spot of 7.6 and an average finish of 11.9, Johnson will also be bringing momentum with him to the 600: he has won the last two events on the Cup Series calendar, at Darlington on May 12 to give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory and the non-points Sprint All-Star Race at CMS last Saturday, May 19.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon needs something - anything - to go right this season. He currently sits 24th in points, with just two top 10s in 11 races. His record at Charlotte is among the best of the active drivers, with five wins, 15 additional top 10s and eight poles in 38 races at the track.
Mark Martin - although he's only competing part-time this year, Martin has been letting people know he can still race competitively, even at age 53 - he has four top 10s and two poles in eight races this year. At Charlotte, Martin has four wins and 19 more top 10 finishes in 54 races at the track, dating back to 1982; he also has two poles.
Jeff Burton - Burton is another driver in need of a career boost after finishing 20th in points last year and currently sitting 17th. The Richard Childress Racing driver has three wins and 12 more top 10 finishes at CMS in 36 total races, but hasn't had a good finish there since he last won in the fall of 2008.
Kasey Kahne - after a start to his season much like that of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, Kahne has moved up from a low point of 32nd in points to his current 16th-place standing on the strength of five straight top 10 finishes. Kahne's record at Charlotte is impressive for a young driver, with three wins and five more top 10 finishes in 16 races.
Dark horse: AJ Allmendinger - he doesn't have a win yet, but the Coca Cola 600 has favored first-time winners in the past: Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Casey Mears and David Reutimann all won their first races in the 600. While his overall Charlotte stats aren't great, his past three appearances at the track have been: fifth and seventh in last year's two races, plus a second-place finish in the Sprint Showdown and 11th-place finish in the All-Star Race last Saturday.
Source: "Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Coca Cola 600," NASCAR Media
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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