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NASCAR‘s longest race is here, folks. The original intention in 1960 was to have the Coca-Cola 600 run on Memorial Day weekend, and by Year 2 (1961) that tradition was in place — giving racing fans a stock-car alternative to the Indy 500 each May.
Some of the all-time greats have raced well at the Charlotte track — also known as The Beast of the Southeast. Jimmie Johnson won eight NASCAR Cup Series races there, and Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip each won six times.
Who will be the most dominant this time around? Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. each have three Cup wins at Charlotte, and Brad Keselowski has two.
While the veterans will be there, it could be a young upstart who nabs the checkered flag late Sunday night. That seems to be a 2021 trend, where the young guns are slowly beginning to supplant the old guard as the top consistent drivers.
Whoever gets to hold the Bruton Smith Trophy, they‘ll have earned it after the marathon of all races — 400 laps for 600 miles. And that‘s if they don‘t go to overtime for some bonus restarts.
Kyle Larson (+350)
Larson has led the most laps in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series with 778, and he is second with seven top-five finishes. He‘s currently third in the season standings, right behind William Byron (by 12 points) and Denny Hamlin (who is 110 points ahead but has no wins yet).
For his career on intermediate-length tracks like Charlotte, Larson has reached the top 10 more than half the time (65 of 118 career starts) and the top five in more than a third of the races (43 of 118).
Couple all of the above with the fact that he‘s won at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series and in the 2019 All-Star Race, and there are plenty of reasons why he tops the odds this week.
OTHERS: Kyle Busch (+700) has won 18 Charlotte races in the top three circuits of NASCAR, and he has the most top-five finishes there among current Cup Series drivers (14). Oh, and he won the 2017 All-Star Race, too. … Martin Truex, Jr. (+650) has three career wins in the Cup Series at Charlotte, and he has three wins this year (Phoenix Raceway, Martinsville Speedway and Darlington Raceway).
THE DARK-HORSE THREAT
Brad Keselowski (+1200)
The defending Coca-Cola 600 champion, Keselowski has two career Cup Series wins and four Xfinity Series victories at the track. Also, 10 of his 21 career Cup starts here have resulted in top-10 finishes.
He has two top-five finishes on intermediate tracks this year. One can imagine he‘d like to reach up and snag a certain flag and do some burnouts late Sunday. It would give a spark to a season in which he‘d love to run better. (He‘s ninth in the standings.)
OTHERS: Ryan Blaney (+1000) is intriguing. He‘s a past winner at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series (2017), and last year he posted two third-place finishes when racing here. A win at Atlanta earlier this year shows he can win on an intermediate track, and he‘s currently seventh in the season standings.
THE INTRIGUING LONG SHOT
Tyler Reddick (+5000)
Between the Xfinity Series and Cup Series, this young up-and-coming driver has five career starts, one win and three top-10 finishes at Charlotte. Aside from that, he‘s posted six top 10s in the past eight races and his best finish this year (second) came at a 1.5-mile track (Homestead-Miami Speedway).