Five drivers to watch at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600.

The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the longest race on the schedule and the only race at the 1.5-mile speedway this season.

Three of the five drivers from the last edition of who to watch finished inside the top-9 at Kansas. Ryan Blaney, after leading 54 laps, crashed while battling with Kyle Larson late in the race. Matt Kenseth on the other hand, was on the list since it was his first race back. He would end up crashing and finishing 36th.

Can Kevin Harvick score his sixth victory and his third 600 victory? Will we see another first time winner like last year when Austin Dillon won? Will a driver who hasn’t won this season, such as Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski or Denny Hamlin, find victory lane?

Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick is dominating NASCAR right now. After scoring the victory in the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway under a completely different rules package, it seems like nothing can stop Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team.

“I would just point at the experience of the race team because of the fact this is our fifth year together,” said Harvick in his pre-race report.

“We’ve been through a lot of very high-pressure situations, low-pressure situations, good moments, bad moments. And everybody just gets along so well on our race team and, when you look at that as a group, it’s something that’s pretty special. ”

Harvick has led a total of 206 laps in his last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His average finish is 16.3, but don’t let that fool you. Harvick finished inside the top-10 in both races at Charlotte last year. His 38th place finish in the fall race back in 2016 was due to a blown engine.

Harvick will have an uphill battle on Sunday as he starts from the 39th starting position after not getting through pre-qualifying tech.

Martin Truex Jr. will start 15th for the Coca-Cola 600. (©John Harrelsonr / NKP)

Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. is the most recent winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway, earning a victory in last year’s fall race.

“Ever since I came to Furniture Row Racing we just seem to figure that track out and it has suited us well,” explained Truex.

In 2017, Truex led a total of 324 laps in both races at Charlotte, with a worst finish of third in the Coca-Cola 600.

“No doubt we could have won three in a row,” Truex noted. “Just a long race and more opportunity for fuel mileage to come into play. At some point of the race you get those long green-flag runs and for whatever reason they seem to come at the end. That’s the reason we lost it twice.”

Truex is tied with Matt Kenseth for the best average finish of 5.7 in the last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin during practice for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hamlin will start third on Sunday. (©Matt Thacker / NKP)

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin finished inside the top-five in both Charlotte races last year. In his last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hamlin has combined to lead 107 laps, fifth best among all drivers.

The driver listed in this spot from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable could have Daniel Suarez. Suarez in the middle of a stretch of races featuring a top-12 finish in five of his last six races counting the All-Star Race. He visits a track where he hasn’t finished worse than 11th in his short career.

Kurt Busch will start from the 16th starting position for the Coca-Cola 600. (©John Harrelsonr / NKP)

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch finished sixth in the Coca-Cola 600 last year and has an average finish of 12th in his last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch quietly sits fifth in the standings and is still in search of his first win of the season. Heading to Charlotte, however, could change that for Busch and his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Winning the Coca-Cola 600 would not only help solidify Busch’s playoff position but also add a second victory on NASCAR’s biggest stage.

“It’s a big, marquee event,” said Busch in his pre-race report. “There’s The Masters, the Grand Slams in tennis – there are those big marquee events and this is one of them for us here in NASCAR.”

“Memorial Day weekend is a time to reflect on our military and to give thanks and honor those who have served. It’s also a huge weekend of motorsports and the platform of motorsports shines because of Monaco, Indy and Charlotte. And when you have a chance to be the last guy standing at the end of that weekend with a trophy in your hands, it’s big. It’s a huge event to win.”

Jamie McMurray will start seventh for the Coca-Cola 600. (©John Harrelsonr / NKP)

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray is one of the drivers who earned his first career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It wasn’t in the Coca-Cola 600 but instead in the fall race of 2002 subbing for the injured Sterling Marlin.

McMurray has an average finish of 9. 0 in his last three races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That includes a top-five and two top-tens.

2018 has been a struggle for McMurray as he sits 24th in points while his teammate, Kyle Larson, sits inside the top-12. Charlotte will be a good barometer to see just how far off McMurray and his team are.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.

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