Analyzing Charlotte Motor Speedway

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  • David Pearson
    American racecar driver (1934-2018)
  • Austin Dillon
    Austin Dillon
    American racing driver

Charlotte Motor Speedway has a complicated history. Built by Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner in 1959, the track was imperiled from the start because of cost overruns attributable to difficult construction. The track sits on a large seam of granite that made it difficult to shape the course and exponentially increased the capital outlay.

The track was ready to host a race in June, 1960, and as is fitting with the personality of Smith ever since, he wanted this race to be the biggest and more dramatic than the 445 races that preceded it. NASCAR ran the first World 600 that year with Joe Lee Johnson scoring his second career NASCAR victory. David Pearson earned his first NASCAR win a year later and in 1962, Nelson Stacy scored his third win.

For most of its history, the predominance of NASCAR teams have been located near Charlotte. Everyone wants to win in front of the hometown crowd, which adds to the circus atmosphere of this race. A lot of drivers have gotten the chance with more than 50 different winners on this course.

Charlotte is host to 10 first-time winners; 26 of 124 victories were among the first five for a driver and they include some of the greatest names in the sport. Pearson went on to win more than 100 races (105), Jeff Gordon won his first Cup race in Charlotte in 1994 and added 92 to land third on the all-time chart.

This race also has the reputation of being a kingmaker.

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Other legends with early wins include Matt Kenseth, Buddy Baker, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr. and Richard Petty, who scored his fifth win in a qualification race for the 1961 World 600. And those first-time winners didn't disappear when the calendar reset. Five newbies have graced Victory Lane in since 1999.

Many of those first winners came in the 600-mile race.

Despite its length, this race is often ruled by strategy. Gordon's inaugural win came as the result of a late-race, two-tire change when no one thought that was a winning move. In 2017, Austin Dillon won a fuel mileage event on this track. Still, on balance most of the active top-five finishers are marquee drivers.

The current win list includes Kevin Harvick and Truex with three apiece, Brad Keselowski with two, and single wins for superstars Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, and both Busch brothers Kyle and Kurt. The only active dark horse is Dillon.

With 10 top-fives and a best of second three times, Denny Hamlin has the most success without a victory.

Charlotte is primarily a race for favorites. Larson's 2021 win came with +350 odds – among the lowest of the season. Second-place Chase Elliott had +575 odds. That should make it easy, right? Trust the oddsmakers and don't spread your money to thin – but it's not quite that simple.

Last year's Coke 600 saw two drivers earn their first-ever Charlotte top-five. Hendrick Motorsports dominated that race, giving Larson his first win, Elliott placed second, with William Byron getting his first top-five in fourth and Alex Bowman finishing fifth. They came with moderately long odds of +1300 and +1400 respectively.

A lot of drivers and teams will roll the dice like Dillon did in 2017 and David Reutimann in 2009 and Casey Mears in 2007. They may not find Victory Lane, but if they land in the top-five, they could be good values if those odds are long enough.

2022 Race
May 29, Coke 600

Active Winners
3: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr.
2: Brad Keselowski
1: Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson

Career Top-fives
15: Kyle Busch
10: Denny Hamlin
9: Kevin Harvick
8: Kurt Busch
7: Martin Truex, Jr.
6: Joey Logano
5: Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski
2: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson
1: William Byron, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon

Current Streaks
Chase Elliott: 4 top-5s; 4 lead lap finishes
Kevin Harvick: 4 top-10s; 4 lead lap finishes
Austin Dillon: 2 top-10s; 3 lead lap finishes
Denny Hamlin: 2 top-10s; 2 lead lap finishes
Ryan Blaney: 4 lead lap finishes
Chris Buescher: 4 lead lap finishes
Tyler Reddick: 3 lead lap finishes (all)
Brad Keselowski: 3 lead lap finishes
William Byron: 2 lead lap finishes
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 2 lead lap finishes

First-time Winners
2017 Coca-Cola 600: Austin Dillon
2009 Coca-Cola 600: David Reutimann
2007 Coca-Cola 600: Casey Mears
2002 UAW-GM Quality 500: Jamie McMurray
2000 Coca-Cola 600: Matt Kenseth
1995 Coca-Cola 600: Bobby Labonte
1994 Coca-Cola 600: Jeff Gordon
1968 National 500: Charlie Glotzbach
1967 National 500: Buddy Baker
1961 World 600: David Pearson

2021 Race
May 30, Coke 600:
1. Kyle Larson (350), 2. Chase Elliott (575), 3. Kyle Busch (1000), 4. William Byron (1300), 5. Alex Bowman (1400)

Similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks: Charlotte, Kansas Speedway, Homestead, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas.

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