Against the backdrop of America's most solemn of holidays, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is widely considered the very greatest in all of motorsports. After Formula 1's prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway comes alive for the deeply beloved tradition of the Indianapolis 500.
And then, in the evening, comes one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR calendar.
The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, the sport's longest race. First held in 1960, the former "World 600" served as stock car racing's answer to the Indianapolis 500, presenting an endurance race that pushed both man and machine to the very limit. Some 60 years later, the 600-mile race remains a daunting test that makes victory all that much more satisfying.
How to watch the Coca-Cola 600
Date: Sunday, May 29
Location: Charlotte Motor Speedway -- Concord, N.C.
Time: 6 p.m. ET
Stream: fuboTV (Get Access Now)
What to watch for
- Ryan Blaney took his first checkered flag of 2022 by winning the All-Star Race in a highly disputed and controversial finish. While the win earned Blaney a cool million dollar payday, it didn't contribute to the bottom line of his 2022 season: As the All-Star Race is a non-points event, Blaney remains the top driver in points who has yet to win a race this season. It is essential for Blaney to get a victory as soon as he can in order to assure himself a spot on the NASCAR playoff grid. Should he do it this weekend, he would become the ninth different driver in history to win both the All-Star Race and Coke 600 in the same season. That list currently includes Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (1991), Dale Earnhardt (1993), Jeff Gordon (1997), Jimmie Johnson (2003), Kasey Kahne (2008), Kurt Busch (2010), and Kyle Larson (2021).
- Another driver seeking to join an elite category of drivers is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin has won the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 three times apiece in his career so far, but he is still looking to win the Coke 600 for the first time. Should he do so, he would become the 12th driver in NASCAR history to have won each of the sport's three most prestigious races. A Coca-Cola 600 victory would also give him seven combined victories in crown jewel races, which would tie him for fifth among drivers who have won all three races. Presently, Jeff Gordon is NASCAR's all-time leader in crown jewel race victories with 12 wins (Three Daytona 500s, six Southern 500s, and three Coke 600s)
- With the introduction of the stage racing format in 2017, the Coca-Cola 600 took on an extra level of importance as it pertains to the points standings. At 400 laps divided into four stages, the Coke 600 pays out the most points of any race on the Cup Series calendar. As the second half of the season begins, the Coke 600's stages will be of major importance to the drivers who currently find themselves at or below the cutoff line for the playoffs. Aric Almirola currently holds the last spot in on points by 11 over Austin Dillon, followed by Tyler Reddick (-22), Erik Jones (-32) and Daniel Suarez (-49). Just as stage points will be up for grabs, there will also be a greater supply of playoff points available for stage winners and the race winner William Byron currently leads the Cup Series with 13 playoff points, followed by Ross Chastain (12) and a tie between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin (seven).
- The first six races of the 2022 season saw a flurry of first-time winners, as Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, and Ross Chastain all earned their first Cup wins in February and March. As the springtime has come, though, that first-time fever has subsided as drivers like Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez have seen their efforts to pick up their first wins be thwarted. The good news, though, is that the Coca-Cola 600 has a long history of first-time winners. Seven drivers in history have had the Coca-Cola 600 serve as their first Cup Series win, with the first four of those -- David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), and Matt Kenseth (2000) -- all going on to be named NASCAR Hall of Famers. The other three are Casey Mears (2007), David Reutimann (2009), and Austin Dillon (2017).
- Prior to the Coca-Cola 600, many in Charlotte will have their focus be on Indianapolis, as seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson races in the Indianapolis 500 for the very first time. While Johnson's Indy 500 start checks a major point on his bucket list in the late stages of his racing career, there are some historical implications on the line for him: Johnson can become just the third driver in history to win both NASCAR's Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, joining Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt. Johnson, who will start 12th at Indy, is one of five drivers in the Indianapolis 500 field with NASCAR experience. Two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya raced in NASCAR full-time from 2007 to 2013, while Santino Ferrucci, Conor Daly, and Sage Karam have dabbled in stock cars through the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Pick to Win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Ryan Blaney (+1000): The All-Star Race ended up becoming a tour de force for Team Penske, with Blaney leading the way as the company flexed its speedway program's muscle. After a quiet period following Austin Cindric's Daytona 500 win, Penske has picked up the pace throughout the last three weeks, as evidenced by Joey Logano's win at Darlington and Blaney's All-Star win.
While there is some difference in the two tracks' characteristics, Texas Motor Speedway is a sister track of Charlotte Motor Speedway, meaning that performance at Texas should translate fairly well to performance at Charlotte. While results in the Coke 600 haven't been there for Blaney consistently, he did have a third-place finish in the 2020 edition of the race.