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2023 Coca-Cola 600: Preview, Best Bets, Longshot Pick

May 21, 2023; North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) during the All Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR’s longest race concludes one of the busiest days on the motor racing calendar that also includes the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin is the defending champion of the Coca-Cola 500, beating then-teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line by .014 seconds in two overtimes last year. The race went 13 laps longer than scheduled, and 17 of the 37 drivers in the field failed to finish.

Hamlin will attempt to repeat the feat as he seeks his 50th career win in the series. However, he’s not the pre-race favorite. That distinction goes to Kyle Larson, followed by Hendrick Motorsports teammte William Byron, with the pair combining to win five of the first 13 races this year.

“I feel like our cars have definitely gotten better on the mile-and-a-half tracks,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, we did win the last mile-and-a-half at Kansas, so I’m optimistic going into this weekend.

“We know we will have to beat the Hendrick guys if we want to have a shot, but I feel like we’ve been trending in the right direction on these types of tracks. We have as good a chance as anyone. We just have to execute throughout the race and be there at the end.”

COCA-COLA 600
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Date: May 28, 6 p.m. ET
The Distance: 600 miles (400 laps)
Defending Champion: Denny Hamlin
Cup Series Leader: Ross Chastain
TV: FS1
Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

FIVE BEST BETS
Kyle Larson (+400 at BetMGM)
Larson is coming off a dominating performance in the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, and won the Coca-Cola 600 two years ago. He has 21 career Cup Series victory, and 15 have come since returning to NASCAR in 2021. Larson is the sportsbook’s third biggest liability this week, drawing the most total bets (11.0 percent) and money (17.3 percent) to win as his odds have shortened since opening at +500.

William Byron (+700)
Byron won the most recent points race at Darlington before last week’s All-Star race. He leads the Cup Series with three wins and 596 total laps led, but sits in fifth place in the standings in part due to a pair of DNFs.

Denny Hamlin (+750)
The defending champion is second among all drivers with 11.2 percent of the money backing him. Hamlin sits fourth in the driver standings, 36 points behind Chastain as he has five top-10s this season.

Chase Elliott (+900)
Elliott won a 312-mile race at Charlotte in 2020 when NASCAR resumed competition during the pandemic. He is second at BetMGM with 7.6 percent of the total bets backing Elliott, whose odds opened at +1000.

Kyle Busch (+1200)
Busch’s odds opened at +1000 and have lengthened despite being third in the field with 7.4 percent of the bets backing him. He has two wins this season despite leading only 75 total laps through 13 starts.

LONGSHOT PICK
Alex Bowman (+2500)
Bowman was leading the Cup Series in average finish (10.3) before missing the past three races due to a compression fracture of the spine suffered in a sprint car event at West Burlington, Iowa.

“It’s a boost for all of us to have Alex return to the No. 48 car this weekend at our home track,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “He’s still 17th in points, which says a lot about how well the team performed at the start of the year.

“Alex has worked hard to rehab the injury and come back strong, and I look for him to continue having a championship-caliber season.”

–Field Level Media

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