We’re revved up and ready for another big NASCAR race, so it’s time to phone our friend Jeff Cogliandro to get his asphalt expertise for the Coca-Cola 600.
Cogliandro is a racing sponge who soaks up information and utilizes physics and advanced analytics to handicap races. He loves Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron to have good runs and he’s a little more excited than usual heading into Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The most exciting part is that we’re getting the practice sessions,” Cogliandro told NESN. “When it comes to handicapping NASCAR, that is the most valuable time that you can possibly have. Because of the pandemic, there really hasn’t been that many weekends where we’ve had practice or traditional qualifying.
“Practice sessions give you the best idea of how the cars have unloaded and how they’re progressing to get ready for a race,” he explained. “It ultimately makes the racing much better and NASCAR has suffered without them. When they just show up and unload the cars and go right to the race, you see a wider variance of cars.
“When you have those practice sessions, you get more cars that are grouped together and more equal when they start. You have that extra time to get your car dialed in. That initial hour of practice before the race begins tends to put the cars on more of a level playing field once the green flag drops.”
Does the practice session benefit anybody in particular?
“When you look at the top 12 drivers, instead of ranging from a 96 grade all the way down to an 82 grade, you probably have a 96 to 90 range instead,” Cogliandro explained. “You’re compacting the entire group, so it really helps everybody and helps the product in general.”
As far as winning the Coca-Cola 600 outright, Cogliandro believes the cream will rise and one of the betting favorites will take care of business. This is the exact opposite of what Cogliandro told us before the Daytona 500, when he said that literally anybody can win it. Michael McDowell took the checkered flag at 100-to-1 odds.
“If you look at the last five winners at a Charlotte oval race, the average odds of the winner are 6.25-to-1,” Cogliandro reported. “(Chase) Elliott, (Brad) Keselowski, (Martin) Truex Jr., (Kyle) Busch and Truex Jr. again. So you’re really not seeing the big surprise winner. Stability is a staple when it comes to handicapping this specific race.”
Elliott and Ryan Blaney continue to get more and more popular at the betting windows. Those two have consistently crept up the betting boards over the last couple years. Their odds have shortened because bettors and bookmakers both respect them.
“Elliott is fantastic,” Cogliandro said. “He’s the son of a legend and just an incredible racer. His prowess is really on these road courses. Typically he’s a second-half driver, meaning he comes on strong in second half of the season. And while he did win at Charlotte last year in one of the midweek races, I don’t consider him to be as valuable as the odds say he is. That’s probably an unpopular opinion.
“Blaney is another up-and-comer, but I hesitate a little bit because Blaney doesn’t always have the killer instinct,” Cogliandro continued. “He’s a good, young driver on his way up, but I don’t put him in the Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. camp.”
Odds-on favorite Kyle Larson is a pretty sizable favorite in the head-to-head matchups. He’s -150 against Busch and Hamlin and -160 against Blaney and Keselowski.
“Those aren’t prices I’m willing to lay,” Cogliandro admitted. “Larson showed the best at qualifying and he’s starting from the pole. But I don’t think his practice speed will translate to race speed as much as the books believe. The track temperature will change a lot over the course of the race, which doesn’t work in his favor.”
Cogliandro’s favorite Coca-Cola 600 bet is Truex Jr. (-110) over Kyle Busch in the head-to-heads. And he really liked the way Byron’s car looked at Saturday morning’s qualifying. Truex Jr. and Byron could be worth pops at 6-to-1 and 12-to-1, respectively.
“Hamlin and Truex Jr. are my guys to beat.”