Coke 600 Dark Horses

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Rain threw a monkey wrench into last week’s Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), but the impact was far less great than one might imagine. Several of our dark horse picks ran well and a couple were capable of winning. Ultimately a favorite won – which in itself is a rarity for 2021 – but the long outright odds drug AJ Allmendinger, Chase Briscoe, Michael McDowell, and Tyler Reddick to favorable levels.

Now we shift to another race that can be volatile. The Coke 600 is the longest race on the schedule. Even without Mother Nature’s intervention, it has the greatest changes in conditions since it starts in daytime and runs into the evening. Drivers and teams need to work hard to keep up with the track – and inevitably, some of them do it better than others.

They are not always the usual suspects.

At its heart, Charlotte Motor Speedway is another similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track. It has a lot of similarities to Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway and while the drivers will tell you each of those courses are unique, the proof in their likeness is found in the list of drivers who excel on them.

So far there have been four races on this track type: the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead, Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas, Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta, and Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas. Four different drivers have won and none of them have exactly been dark horses. In each of those races, however, there were multiple longshots who finished in the top 10.

Reddick came darned close to winning at Homestead. He finished second behind William Byron and he did not have nearly as much momentum then as he does this week. In the last eight races, he scored six top-10s and a 12th. None of those recent races have been in the top five, but after winning last week’s pole, he has an extra burst of confidence that could get him all the way to the front. He is worth a unit for the outright win with +4000 odds and increasingly aggressive bets for a top-three (+1000), top-five (+450), and top-10 (+135).


Two other drivers have come on strong in recent weeks and deserve some juice.

One of these is Reddick’s teammate Austin Dillon. Recall that he won the 2017 Coke 600 with a fuel mileage gamble, but ran strong before that. He also enters the weekend with a pair of top-10s on 1.5-milers with a sixth at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas. His top-10 odds are just under 2/1 at +190, but the risk is much less than a top-five at +600.

Chris Buescher has steadily been making his way to the front and he is getting a lot of air time recently. He had a top-10 capable car last week at COTA but got stranded outside that mark when the track became too wet to finish. Like Dillon, he’s been in contact with the leaders in the last two 1.5-milers with a seventh at Atlanta and eighth Kansas. His top-10 odds are very attractive at +350 and that is worth a couple of units.

NBC analyst Steve Letarte’s sleeper pick of the week is Matt DiBenedetto – and we have to agree. He is another driver who has been lurking around the top 10 much of the year and in his last effort, he challenged for the Buschy McBusch 400 win and settled into fourth. So far that is his only top-10 on the 1.5-mile tracks, but it got our attention. As with Reddick, this is a driver who could be bet all the way down with +9000 odds for the outright win, +2000 for a top-three, +850 for a top-five, and +350 for the top 10.

Ross Chastain could be this week’s pick to earn his first top-10 on a 1.5-miler in 2021. He’s had that mark in sight during the past two races with 14th-place results at both Atlanta and Kansas. He finished 17th at Homestead. With any attrition at all, he could be a great value at +1400 for a top-10.

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